As was displayed by a record-setting opening weekend for a December release, I Am Legend is essentially a summer action thriller released in the winter.
The Will Smith film grossed an impressive $76.5 million opening weekend, the biggest so far in the career of box office king Smith.
Ticket receipts, however, mean little if the film fails to deliver, but I Am Legend as an entertainment does succeed. Still, some movies can leave the audience with more questions than answers.
Smith stars as Dr. Robert Neville, a scientist and U. S. Army officer who believes he is the last man on earth following a virus that has wiped out apparently all of Manhattan and most of the world. His wife, Zoe, (Salli Richardson), and daughter, Marley, (Willow Smith) were also victims of the virus, created through a cancer “cure” and treatment that caused its recipients to display animal-like aggression and attack their peers. Those infected turn into zombies and come out at night, looking for prey.
Smith resides in a barricaded house in Greenwich Village, accompanied only by his dog, Sam.
He passes the endless hours alone by taking videos out of the store alphabetically, calling out to anyone who can hear him via CB radio, and driving sports cars down the deserted streets during the day. He also attempts to make conversation with the mannequins in the store.
Meanwhile, Smith has been working on a vaccine for the virus in his laboratory located inside the house.
Smith does a good job in the film of establishing the emptiness of being alone in a desolate place.
His desperation to find a cure, and his feelings of loneliness, seem very real as in the scene where he attempts to approach a female mannequin that he has been too nervous to speak to.
The film also has a surprising number of chills as well.
But the film’s special effects, particularly of the zombies themselves, left much to be desired.
In a film like this, the villains are key to its success. It’s difficult to create menace in creatures that exist to chase the characters and act on their impulses, and the film errors by assuming that making the zombies look alike and act alike would build dramatic tension. It doesn’t.
They all are pale white, aggressive, bald and have mouths filled with teeth. Essentially, they are the zombie version of the androids in Smith’s last high-tech action thriller I, Robot. With their interchangeable appearance, done obviously by computerized manipulation, the chief villains lose their edge.
The film also raises questions of logic that it doesn’t answer: If everyone is wiped out and there’s no one to produce energy, how do appliances work?
Smith is already immune to the virus but he is trying to find a cure. Why, especially if he believes he is the last man on earth?
The ending of the film also seems abrupt and out of step with the earlier tone of the movie. Granted, it goes out if its way to justify the film’s title, but without adequate build up, it feels like reaching a “dead end” after driving two hours at 60 mph in a sports car.
The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, and written by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman. It’s based on the 1954 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, and was adapted once before as Omega Man with Charlton Heston chased by crazed, hippie zombies.
Ultimately, I am Legend works because of Smith’s savvy and charisma.
But with all the talk about the advancements of special effects in resent years, the film looks oddly anachronistic. Nothing legendary about that.