Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a brilliant scientist, but even he could not contain the terrible virus that was unstoppable, incurable... and manmade. Somehow immune, Neville is now the last human survivor in what is left of New York City... and maybe the world. But he is not alone. He is surrounded by "the Infected"-victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path. For three years, Neville has spent his days scavenging for food and supplies and faithfully sending out radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. All the while, the Infected lurk in the shadows, watching Neville's every move, waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Perhaps mankind's last, best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the virus using his own immune blood. But his blood is also what The Infected hunt, and Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time. (from MovieWeb.com)
A quick skimming of the films I've seen and reviewed here at JFH will reveal an obvious fact that I don't see many "horror" films. While most movies that fit the genre have become increasingly sadistic and graphic in nature, once in a great while, films like The Mummy, The Sixth Sense, and now I Am Legend are given a more mainstream market appeal. While the latter, which is also the subject of this review, is just as much a sci-fi story as it is horror (if not more so), it offers plenty of creepy moments not for the faint of heart.
Comparing I Am Legend to a film like 1999's reboot of The Mummy franchise (which sees a third installment dropping in August of next year), isn't too far of a stretch, but merely because of the kinds of mythical monsters that become the focal point of the horror elements for I Am Legend. The 1950's novel by the same title, written by Richard Matheson, proposes the idea of the world being inhabited by a race of vampires after a bacteria spreads infecting all humans - except for one. That lone uninfected human then carries on the rest of his days as someone who hunts and kills the vampires and anyone carrying the virus. The 2007 film version, however, differs in the sense that the lone man, Robert Neville, is merely trying to survive his days as he searches for a cure for those infected and holds out hope for other survivors existing somewhere. It's this idea that causes the film to veer off course from the book, ultimately giving this theatrical telling a new ending from what the book offered as well.
This story obviously has no similarities whatsoever to The Mummy, but while that film and its first successor in 2001 both offered flawed CGI effects when it came to its monsters, I Am Legend suffers from similar missteps. For example, the vampires shown in I Am Legend are entirely CGI and often look as such. It's only when we first see them in the dark that they look somewhat tangible. However, as soon as they step into the light, it's exaggerated and cartoony, lower-jaw-extending Imhotep all over again. While it's not bad enough to exactly ruin the film, it simply begs for higher quality and more believable effects, and will undoubtedly be something some viewers will have a hard time looking past. On the other hand, if it had been more realistic - or if regular actors were used with horrific makeup - the film would have most likely leaned more heavily on the horrific side. Instead, I Am Legend never really ventures beyond a creepy feel - something horror fans will be bored to tears about, but it's something this particular reviewer has no problem with.
What's interesting to note is that I Am Legend is more about the psychological elements of a human being stuck in isolation than anything else. Most of the film is spent following Neville through his daily routines, getting to know what his life is like living all by himself without any companionship aside from a dog named Sam. Surprisingly enough, Will Smith is a wonderful choice for Neville, giving the character plenty of depth as he struggles with the solitude as well as the horrors of living in a city with a race of mutated humans that want him dead. Smith gets a few scenes to really shine, making I Am Legend considerably different than any other major blockbuster film he's done in the past. While there is action to behold, director Francis Lawrence allows the drama to take over much of the time, giving thematic weight to the film. Most of the movie is without any kind of musical accompaniment, making the realism all the more real -- making Neville's loneliness seem all the more serious.
I was also surprised to find a strong spiritual message in I Am Legend. I doubt Matheson's original story had this intention (although I don't know for certain having never read the book), but it gives a deeper feel to the story. The Tom Hanks starrer Cast Away, which involved his character spending years completely alone after being stranded on an island, seemed almost pointless and empty without having any kind of spiritual element. Not once was the idea explored even in part. However, in I Am Legend, the subject of God surfaces several times - from a flashback scene that shows Neville's wife praying for the Lord to watch over him - to a character insisting God guided them because He has a plan for them. It added a dimension to the sci-fi story that otherwise would not have been there and therefore made I Am Legend out to be more than what you think you may get at face value.
The movie's biggest problem is the subpar CGI work for the creatures, but there's little else to complain about besides this when it comes to story or execution. The special effects used to make New York look desolate and uninhabited in 2012 is breathtaking and fantastic. Never did these effects look cheesy or fake. The set pieces for I Am Legend are one of its strongest points next to Smith's acting presence. Will's interactions with his dog - who indeed steals most of the scenes she's in - make for some of the film's most memorable moments. In fact, what's most memorable about I Am Legend will be the acting and sets - not necessarily the mutated creatures that are cause for the film's action scenes and climactic encounter.
The content is surprisingly tame for what you might expect with this premise and Smith's position in the lead. Language is sparse at best with a handful of obscenities. Ironically, in a flashback, Neville's wife uses a brief exclamation of blasphemy before later praying over her husband. It seemed a bit contradictory in behavior, especially when it was the only real standout use of it in the film. While it's possible some characters muttered a few additional swear words under their breath when things heated up a bit, profanity was seldom used throughout the course of the movie. Some scenes get very violent, albeit non-graphically, which make it anything but a family film. Blood and terror isn't a focal point and the camera pulls away from some of the more intense moments. Finally, sexual content is barely an issue, but while in a video rental store, we do see two shelves of adult films which have racy covers, but the camera doesn't linger on them and they're mostly out of focus as well.
I Am Legend is a well-constructed and weighty sci-fi thriller with some horror thrown in for good measure. Too scary and creepy to not be labeled horror, but not terrifying enough to satisfy fans of the genre, I Am Legend is more a film for adults than youngsters. A little language here and there, coupled with some jump scenes and eerie moments, as well as plenty of action violence, make this a tough one to recommend. The film, however, does offer a spiritual message - enough to discuss afterwards even - but I Am Legend is still a dark and even emotional cinematic experience regardless.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/13/07)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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