Movie Review: I Am Legend
Rating: 1 and 1/2 Stars
I found I Am Legend to be a disaffecting film, which I found to be consistent with my opinions of director Francis Lawrence’s work. I think part of it is to do with the type of movies he directs but I generally think his films lack a sharp focus on a central theme or developing a compelling character arc.
I Am Legend is Lawrence’s second major motion picture following a strange action-horror called Constantine which I have not seen. I have seen the first Hunger Games movie and Red Sparrow and each of those efforts struggled in maintaining my investment in the story or the characters.
Lawrence’s background is in music videos and has directed for Beyonce, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and you get the idea. Lawrence has an eye for spectacle. Even in the dreary apocalyptic setting of a lifeless New York City, the landscape has depth and detail.
Will Smith plays Robert Neville who is a scientist and was a high-ranking military official. Neville assumes that most of the world has been wiped out by a virus that was meant to cure cancer. Instead, the virus became transmissible by air and zombie bite.
Smith gives Neville every bit of charisma he can but Neville lacks consistent development. We do learn Neville is a big Bob Marley fan and he delivers an impassioned speech about Marley’s peaceful optimism followed by a conversation about divine intervention in which Neville denounces a faith in God. Neville is stir crazy but self-aware. He’s troubled but determined.
There’s a lack of theming in I Am Legend and the inconsistencies in Neville’s character don’t help matters.
Before I go any further though, I know you’re screaming through your device, “What about the dog?” How could you be so disaffected by a movie where the really cute and lively German Sheperd is so integral to the film?
But Sam’s role in the film is a good touchpoint to revert back to the underwhelming theming in I Am Legend.
Somewhat early in the film, Neville and Sam are out and about when Sam follows a deer into a dark building. Neville is incensed and chases Sam in knowing that dark buildings are possible hideout locations for the zombies which are called ‘darkseekers’. The zombies burn in sunlight akin to vampires. Neville discovers a hive of darkseekers and swiftly escapes with Sam in tow.
Neville returns to the hive to trap one of the darkseekers in an attempt to run tests for a cure. Unfortunately for Neville, he picks out what I assumed to be the daughter of one of the alpha males of that hive. The IMDB page calls these two particular zombies alpha male and alpha female so maybe there’s a different sort of relationship. I don’t know.
For whatever reason, there’s definitely sentience between this one male zombie and the female zombie that Neville has captured. The male zombie enacts a plan for revenge, Neville attempts to get his revenge, and Neville escapes death via a mother named Anna (Alice Braga, she’s had major roles in Repo Men, Predators, and Elysium) who swoops in at the last second to save him.
Throughout I was feeling unsure of what the film was trying to tell me. I Am Legend is part-zombie movie, part-character analysis, but doesn’t get the best out of either despite several moments where Smith is acting his ass off.
I also hate to say this because I usually want to give the benefit of the doubt to the special effects teams of the mid-2000s but the zombies in I Am Legend don’t just look dated, they look uninspired.
There are also puzzling moments when Neville does a bunch of lines from Shrek and when Neville hilariously at the end of the film tries to reason with a zombie horde by telling them he can save them.
Where I Am Legend ultimately fails for me is that it doesn’t leave me with much to remember it by. The most memorable and suspenseful scene which involves an injured Neville and a protective Sam was more pompous and silly to me than it was gripping and anxiety inducing. I find this particular scene to be the real crossroads of the film where you decide if you like the direction the film is going in. I did not.