Attention all fans of 28 Days Later, Children of Men, Twelve Monkeys, The Descent, Signs, The Road Warrior, Night of the Comet, and/or Richard Matheson fiction: Do I have a film for you to avoid: I Am Legend. (Independence Day devotees, your movie is waiting.)
I Am Legend is the long-gestating adaptation of the 1954 Matheson sci-fi/horror novel of the same name. Previously brought to film as Vincent Price's The Last Man on Earth and Charlton Heston's The Omega Man, I Am Legend has been linked for years to moviemakers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ridley Scott, and Michael Bay. Finally, the movie's out, in the combination of star Will Smith and director Francis Lawrence. It was not worth the wait.
The film opens three years after a genetically engineered measles virus escapes labs and gets into the general population. Everybody on earth is either killed by the virus or by those whom the virus has turned into monsters. The last man on earth: Colonel Robert Neville, a virologist who conveniently is an expert on the sickness. Plus, he's immune, so that helps. Neville is stranded on Manhattan Island with his dog — last man on earth's best friend. He spends his days working on a cure to the virus, eating canned goods, and palling around with his pup. He also has to be mindful of New York's other remaining citizens: the vampire-like, virus-ravaged fiends.
Can just screenwriter Akiva Goldsman go on strike? Goldsman has made a career of making bad movies based on books I'm fond of. Going chronologically backward: I Am Legend, The Da Vinci Code, I, Robot, the two horrible Batman movies, and A Time to Kill. (To be fair, he shares I Am Legend screenwriting co-blame with Mark Protosevich.) Good thing I never read A Beautiful Mind or Practical Magic. Up next for Goldsman: Da Vinci follow-up Angels & Demons. It'll suck, too.
I Am Legend doesn't get everything wrong. It opens with a fast and furious deer hunt safari through New York City's savannah. And Smith isn't a bad choice for this role. He can act, for one, and he's a convincing action star.
But Smith can't escape the film's shallowness. It's not a cautionary tale. It has no politics. Its spirituality is as shoddy as its science. It fails its own internal logic. Worst, I Am Legend has no meaningful human element.
Instead, the film is commercialism run roughshod. (But not in a knowing, Dawn of the Dead way.) To maintain his connection with his own humanity, Neville goes shopping. For leisure, Neville hits golf balls off the tail of an SR-71 Blackbird atop an aircraft carrier in New York harbor. It's a pretty, sweeping, expensive-looking shot. I'd trade it for a quiet scene with Neville making art, playing music, or writing in Washington Square. In a key scene, Neville bonds with someone over a shared love for Shrek — and not a shared sense of tragedy or even hope. Tis the season.
I Am Legend
Opening Friday, December 14th