Jaq's Review: I Am Legend - Too Many Ideas, Not Enough Screen Time

December 17, 2007

The problem with I Am Legend is that it has no idea what kind of a film it wants to be. This isn't to say it's not enjoyable, just that it's not nearly as good as it could be which is a shame because the source material, a novel by Richard Matheson and 1971's Omega Man, are both well thought out pieces of speculative fiction. Here, though, the film never settles down into a rhythm and ends up leaving the audience unfulfilled.

The basic plot, the framework upon which everything else hangs, is that a disease has ravaged humanity, killing most everyone on the planet. Of the group who survived, ninety-five percent of them have been transformed into flesh eating, light fearing creatures. Except that's not the whole story. This isn't Night of the Living Dead, where we get a 30 second explanation and the rest is running and hiding and killing dim-witted slow-moving zombies. No. Here the zombies are anything but slow-moving and there's evidence to support they may not be all that dim-witted. Their primary target is one Robert Neville (Will Smith), a military scientist who may or may not have had something to do with the virus' release and certainly thinks he can be the one to fix it.

Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist and the last man alive on earth in I Am Legend.I Am Legend Review

If you noticed, in that last paragraph, there were at least two places where I had to hedge my bets, where I wasn't sure what was going on with the characters or plot. This is indicative of the way the film works. Or doesn't. The film never comes into its own. It never decides what kind of a film it aspires to. It's not scary enough to qualify as a horror film, not deep enough to be a drama, not frenetic enough for action and not tense enough for thriller, and yet it has elements of all of those.

At the end of the day, I Am Legend strikes me as a case of too many cooks trying to make a decent bouillabaisse. There are five writers listed, but only two new ones. The remaining credits here are from the novel and the first film based on it. Of those two new writers, one is Akiva Goldsman who, despite winning an Oscar, has trouble getting all of his ideas from the hands to the keyboard (witness Lost in Space and Batman & Robin) and the other is Mark Protosevich, whose only other films are The Cell and Poseidon, two films that favored style over substance. Legend is directed by music video director Francis Lawrence (who also did Constantine). So behind the scenes, we have style and cleverness hoping to outshine good, solid story-telling and it shows. The film is pretty to look at and the shots of a deserted New York City provide just the right sense of eerie creepy-ness. But when we get to the actual plot, it feels like a jammed commuter train at rush hour, with several elements all jostling for our attention.

In the midst of all this, and one of the few reasons to keep watching, is Will Smith himself, who does as good a job as anyone might have trying to hold everything together. But when he's given a character that changes from solid confidence to almost mad in the space of a few short minutes, we all have to question the direction things are going.

There are at least three films going on here and anyone of them would have been better than this mash-up of an action/horror/thriller/zombie movie. One vision could have turned this from a bland snack into a full fledged meal worthy of the price.

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Totally agree with you on all points. Good review!

Nicholas on Dec 17, 2007


Good review.

Heckle on Dec 17, 2007


I think that he was doing a good job of holding himself together and when events started to tumble down, he loses it. There is only so much tragedy a person can go through, after all, before it really starts to break you down. I think Will Smith has become a hell of an actor over time and it served him well here.

Kat on Dec 17, 2007


I will wait for the HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. I have read the novel over the years 2-3 times and already know that this latest version would be worse than the previous 2. I kew from the previews I didn't want to see it in the theater.

Mike Avallone on Dec 17, 2007


That movie is so f@#$#n hot. the best movie since spider-man 3. This movie got 76.5 million for been so freakin good. They should've gave more to will smith for dat s@#$. Will smith should get a golden globe, oscar and etc.

Alex Truman on Dec 17, 2007


i completely disagree with you, sure it wasn't a perfect movie, but why does it need to be pegged to one genre? I thought it was a very well written movie, very well done for the fact that is was a man and his Dog, now, never having read the books, i can not say how it compares, but as a person with no prior knowledge of back story, i walked out of this movie satisfied. partially because of the bat man short but also because this was a well done movie, technically, visually and acting too. i gave it a 9/10 simply because maybe the ending could have been a little more complex. But, all that being said, this is my opinion, may it not offend anyone. thanks for your review, it is always great to get other peoples reactions to movies. it is nice that you are not a critic who is like, "I don't like the genre, i need more explosions, it sucks!!" but rather, you take the time to breakdown your thoughts and explain them very well, i will continue to read all the reviews on here! Keep up the great work!

TaurinH on Dec 17, 2007


Great movie But then end wasjust ok. Also the movie was very short and if they had the ending a little longer but all and all i would give it an A

Inspiration on Dec 25, 2007


haven't seen the movie yet but in retort to Alex Truman's analogy... uhmmmm.... spiderman 3 kinda blew!! way too corny and convenient, even for comic books. ppl like him are the reason i don't fully formulate an opinion until i've seen a movie, myself.

reggie raw on Dec 27, 2007


ok. just DL'ed and watched it. yes, that's illegal. TFB... yeah, i needed at least 20-30 min more action n storyline. kinda short n didn't live up to all the media hype n teasers. i liked the concept. just left me wanting more. also, he couldda at least gotten ONE freakin' deer, as well!!! 😉

reggie raw on Dec 27, 2007


SPOILERS - I agree with the reviewer. It wasn't sure what it wanted to be. One minute a thoughtful piece, the next a 28 days later clone. Maybe if the last 40 minutes hadn't been in there it would have been better before it descended into almost mummy-esque silliness with the main bad guy looking and roaring like imo-ho-tep. And what was with the infected? One minute these are mindless wrecks, the next an organised team and the next virtual supermen. Neville’s sacrifice at the end was pointless and unnecessary and only done to tie back to the film and the emergence of an isolated, safe haven too much of a cop out. It was almost like so many of the hi concept shots (driving through deserted NY, playing golf off the Blackbird) were shot because they would look cool in the trailer more than how they would sit in the film. Finally I think the film suffered with it's structure. Having flashbacks where you saw loads of people every 10 minutes lessened the visual impact of Neville's loneliness. If they'd had the crowd scenes at the beginning and then a straight almost 30 minute run of just him it would have strengthened his feelings of loneliness and isolation. You can't fault Will's performance. He did everything that was, and could have been, asked of him. His magnetic persona held the screen and you cared about him Just a shame that the writing and direction from such a strong source (ie Matheson’s original novel not the muppets responsible for Batman & Robin and Poseidon) couldn't get it's head removed from its Emmerich style 'hi-concept / low content' arse.

Payne by name on Jan 3, 2008


this film was amazin in the first hour or so, good start amazin effects but then it got to the end. you would have at least think that he would have survived. the fire works at the end were good but i personally think the ending could be better. some how i think there will be a sequal where will smith actually survived. it might be hard but they can pull it off. i think they should give it ago, maybe make the cure into a bullet which they can shoot at the rest of the zombies. it could work

lee on Jan 14, 2008


I watched the film in theaters with a lady friend of mine and may have missed parts of the movie. Due to not seeing this film in its entirety I have one question that is preventing me from saying the film was absolutely amazing What I want to know is how the lady and small boy were able to drive to the "safe compound" when the two very large suspension bridges were destroyed at to say there was no way in or out of the island. However the woman and small boy arrived in a newer model SUV. Again I repeat my mind was not completely on the movie so please bear with me

James Petrella on Jan 15, 2008


Well. Compare it to "The Omega Man" which I saw the first time around at the theater. (Yes, I'm that old and I love zombie flicks.) Charlton Heston was without peer in that flick, plus the hippy, psychadelic manifest it embraced made it feel like the "Easy Rider" of horror flicks. Will stepped up to the plate and he hit a home run with his acting. I think we beat the stuffing out of the "I'm lonely" theme, but killing the dog was masterful. The changes came quickly like someone rescuing him on the pier (did not see that coming) but I have to agree with what I read above about the ending, particularly Will's ending coming too soon. I was very satisfied with this movie. Could somebody take the director from "Cloverfield" and show him "I Am Legend" and explain this is what a good movie is?

Sid on Jan 29, 2008


"But when he's given a character that changes from solid confidence to almost mad in the space of a few short minutes, we all have to question the direction things are going." Perhaps you missed the point about his dog dying (by his own hand)? The same dog that offered him the only form of living companionship for three years leading up to that point? I thought it was an incredibly realistic change in the characters behavior.

Dan on Jul 13, 2008

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