Ken's Review: I Am Legend - A Refreshing Twist on a Classic Concept
by Ken Evans
December 13, 2007
It has been a long time since I was truly tense during a film. By tense I mean that I was gripping the arms of my chair and trying to brace myself in case something jumped out to scare the audience. Man, I love that feeling! That feeling of knowing something is about to happen but not knowing what. That is what hooked me on I Am Legend. As soon as I started to grip onto my seat and push myself back into my chair I knew I was in for a wild ride.
I Am Legend deals with the last man on earth after a virus wipes out the world's population. Robert Neville (Will Smith) wakes up everyday in New York City with only his dog, Samantha, to keep him company. He hunts and gathers supplies during the day and researches to find a cure during the evening. Once the sun goes down he confines himself to his home, as it is his only protection from the "Dark Seekers".
I hate spoilers so I'm not saying anything more about the plot. I hadn't read anything about this story before I saw it and was rewarded with numerous surprises during the viewing. However, I will say that the trailer, which was played to death before just about every movie I saw in the last few months, has a ridiculous amount of spoilers. They are subtle but definitely there if you pay close attention. I'm almost at the point where I don't want to see trailers anymore. Either they give away too much or give you a false impression of what the film will be like. Anyway, that soapbox is for another time.
You might hear that that I Am Legend is slow and boring in parts, but I totally disagree. The pacing was perfect, which I actually noted to myself while watching. Sure there are parts where we watch Robert Neville in his daily routine. These parts have purpose behind them, to show the mundane life that Neville is now forced to live. Although these parts have purpose, I too would go crazy if that was all that this movie was made up of. What the director did to break these scenes up was to add flashbacks between them. He shows us just enough so that we understand what Neville has to deal with, then takes us back to before everyone had died. It was a genius way to break up any monotony while also giving us the back story.
What I really enjoyed about this film was the concept behind it and the performance of Will Smith. The concept is creative and exciting to contemplate. Put aside the fact that this is basically a twist on The Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth, everyone knows and no one cares. The idea behind these stories is solid and I want more. I Am Legend gives us a taste of what it would be like to be completely alone in a once hugely populated city. The depression, hunger, silence, lack of hope, and loneliness are palpable. I felt like I was submerged in that empty world. I was completely drawn into the film which I find is a rare thing.
There is no need to say that Will Smith is a great actor because that should already be known by now. He has already proven himself with his work in The Pursuit of Happiness and Ali, for which he received Oscar nominations for Best Actor. His work in I Am Legend probably won't be nominated for an Oscar, but it is truly one of his best performances. I felt connected to him and could sense desperation. He was able to portray sadness, insanity, joy, humor, and intense longing. In every emotion he was believable and it never felt forced or contrived. It was a wonderful performance.
So, if it had a great concept as its foundation and a great performance by practically the only person in the film, why isn't it a perfect film? The answer is in the ending. It's not that the ending is horrible, because it's not. The ending isn't even bad. It was really just disappointing. The movie was so cool and surprising that I expected an equally cool and surprising ending. What I got instead was the average, basic ending that is the norm for a sci-fi / horror / thriller film like this. I kind of feel like they didn't even try to come up with a better ending and just opted for the run of the mill ending, trying to wrap up the story.
Even with a bit of a disappointing ending, I still really enjoyed I Am Legend. It was exactly what I needed after just seeing Atonement and Alvin and the Chipmunks (sigh). If you want to see a very entertaining film this weekend, I Am Legend should be at the top of your list. It shouldn't be a very hard decision when the only competition it is going up against is Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Perfect Holiday.