I Am Legend is the story of the last man on earth, survivor of a world-wide airborne virus. Robert Neville, alone except for his beloved dog Samantha (a surprisingly effective character) is still trying to save humanity. Before the infection hit, he was the leading scientist dealing with the problem, but failed. Still at ground zero in NYC, he will not give up. Legend is part silly blockbuster and part intelligent sci-fi drama. As I watched the film i could feel each half tugging at each other. Strong acting and fairly developed emotional resonance combating with poorly used CGI and action movie cliches.
Will Smith is captivating and heartbreaking throughout what I consider to be his best performance (even far superior to his acclaimed role in “The Pursuit of Happyness”). Unfortunately the writing, which at times seems like it is going to be great, never quite matches his performance. It leaves me to believe that had the material been better, Smith could have raised his game further, perhaps to Oscar heights. I found it interesting to discover that the screenplay was written by those with these films in their collective resume’: “A Beautiful Mind”, “Lost In Space”, “Batman & Robin” and “The Cell”. Two intelligent films and two very not.
Ultimately, the good or even great side of this film never is completely absent, allowing Legend to never be too far gone. Simply, it is never bad, but rarely great. However, when it is great, it hints at overwhelming potential and unexplored depth. One wonders if the film was in the hands of a worthy director (mind you, “Constantine’s” Francis Lawrence occasionally succeeds) such as Danny Boyle, Alfonso Cuaron or at the very, very, very least an inspired Spielberg a’ la “Minority Report” that this would have been a considerable cinematic achievement.
One of the areas where Legend thrives is in being suspenseful. At times the tension reaches points movies don’t often approach. Of course this is then ruined by close up CGI moments of the “dark seekers” or infected humans. At the boring, unimpressive view of their faces, the realism and effectiveness is at once lost. I can’t help but complain that human actors were not used where it’s quite obvious they should have. In the great “28 Days Later”, the sight of a once human, now infected monster was not only frightening but sorrowful. The creatures in Legend are so far removed from reality and plausibility that it is impossible to feel that despair and sadness in what has become of our race.
It sounds like I am just complaining but that is only because I caught wind of what could have been. Overall, this is a movie that could have been a masterpiece but falls short. But thanks to a strong performance from Smith and a story and character(s) so engrossing it helps carry the weight of this treatment’s flaws, the movie is good. I Am Legend isn’t brilliant, but it isn’t dumb either, and on entertainment value alone, it’s worth the price of admission.