Will Smith most likely butchers another sci-fi classic by Richard Matheson – I don’t know, I didn’t read the book – but he escapes my ire, for the most part, with a decent sci-fi/horror flick that manages to be melancholic and bitter despite some of its focus-tested studio bullshit and its horrible special effects. It’s 2007 and effects studios are still churning out movie monsters that look no better than The Mummy Returns. There’s a reason they never showed these bastards in the trailers. Tell you what, computer guys, I know Photoshop is a tough program but if your movie looks like this:
For the love of Grodd put that chicken back in the oven because your movie is NOT done yet. Once they quit looking blurry and resemble some sort of solid object then your job’s almost done. Tighten up those graphics, or better yet, put stuntmen in suits and have them run around and yell and bite. When was the last time a guy was in a suit and he actually pulled it off? … My goodness, I think it was the Nemesis in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. How could the effects in Resident Evil: Apocalypse outdo a big budget Will Smith sci-fi cultural event? Unforgivable. The zombie-vampire creatures Will Smith’s Robert Neville hides from used to be human beings so, please, why make them look like Mr. Hyde from Van Helsing? I’d pull up a screenshot of that abomination too, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for what things might happen. Terrible, terrible things.
At least the dog wasn’t CG.
And Neville has the worst taste in movies. Of all the movies available in New York City to memorize, he chooses SHREK. For … for crying out… come ON. I guess they had to choose something people would recognize immediately, but Jesus, it’s bad enough seeing Shrek in another movie but once Will Smith starts reciting Eddie Murphy’s and Mike Myer’s lines in tandem with the movie within a movie, that’s crossing the line. Doubly unforgivable. This little gag goes on for a while, too. It feels like ages go by. I thought, while watching – I could do nothing else, I saw it in IMAX – that when I left the theater humanity really would be decimated by a zombie-vampire virus. So, thanks, I Am Legend, for reminding me of Shrek and its impeccable script worth memorizing for those post-apocalyptic days. Couldn’t Neville have chosen Good Night and Good Luck or … Big Trouble in Little China?
Also, when Neville isn’t alone in the city doing stuff like hunting deer and talking to mannequins, the movie drags. The search for a cure just isn’t interesting and the voice-over recording sessions aren’t exactly sterling entertainment either, yet for some reason they just go on and on. Plus, Will Smith the scientist just … well, doesn’t fly. Will Smith the hunter-gatherer with an automatic machine gun and a dog at his side, though? Totally. Will Smith going crazy because he’s the all alone and miserable? MMmmmfff.
There are some choice moments in the flick, things I didn’t expect from the guys who gave us I, Robot but I was genuinely surprised by some of the choices made. There’s a scene in the dark that is so tense and lovely it makes everything else after it pale in comparison. It’s terrific and terrifying, and it happens in the first 20 minutes. Neville treks slowly through the dark and we only get glimpses of what he sees like we’re right behind his shoulder, aiming his flashlight-mounted gun around the corners. The build-up is fantastic, the only sound of footsteps and Neville’s quick breathing. Then a crunch and a choke. Then smatterings of blood on the floor. Then a whole trail of blood. Of course, he follows the trail … Man, it works so well I wish it was its own little mini-movie. If anyone can guess in the comments below what it reminded me of, they’ll get a, uh, cookie. :3
Other great parts involve Neville going bonkers. That was also the one good part of Charleston Heston’s version of the story, The Omega Man, before it went all bow-chicka-wow-wow blaxploitation silly. Thankfully, I Am Legend never gets that ridiculous. It does, however, tickle my misanthropy sensors when Neville goes on about how much life is horrible and there is no God, and he deals with a canine problem in a very grisly, satisfactory way. Unfortunately, the ending’s rushed, sappy and features a lot of lousy CGI creatures moshing. It gets a little too M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs for me, too. Or anyone, hopefully. Hooray for nice endings wrapped up with bows. Gag.
So, Will Smith does a decent job – he better, he carries the movie on his well-sculpted man-shoulders – and the movie’s good when it’s just him, his pet and his growing dementia. At least it continues late 2007’s refreshing agenda of bumming the hell out of movie audiences with tales of hopeless, chaotic worlds. Otherwise, its poor effects, meandering plot, dumb pop culture references and weak third act keep it from being the sad sci-fi epic it deserves to be. Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman, writer of such classics as
Shrek Batman & Robin and Lost in Space, is in the credits, so, hey, it could’ve been worse.