Sunday, March 21, 2010

Archive: 'I Am Legend'

Movie Review
I Am Legend (2007)

If there's one thing "I Am Legend" does right, it's in making people wonder how in the world they got New York City to look like that. It's 2012, and the streets are overgrown with weeds, there is a sea of abandoned cars, wild animals are prowling on the loose, the skyscrapers look decrepit, and there is only one man left on earth after a deadly virus wipes out everybody else. This awe-inspiring opening sequence sets the stage for a scarily relevant perspective on how the end of the world would look. Better than the movie's relevance, though, is its ability to keep shocking its viewers and also its lead actor's ability to keep us enthralled.

Will Smith just loves the roles where he's saving the world in a swirl of special effects, and this is definitely one of the better movies in which he's done so. Sporting a newly buffed physique, he plays the last man on earth, Robert Neville. He spends his days roaming the deserted streets of New York hunting deer, sending out radio signals, and waiting on the same pier for any response each day when the sun is highest in the sky. He has an alarm set on his watch signaling night; Neville closes himself up in his barricaded house because that's when the creatures come out. They are humans transformed from the virus into fierce, hairless things that have gnashing teeth and no traces of humanity left. In Neville's basement, he has a laboratory where he is desperately searching for a vaccine to reverse this horrible virus.

Neville's faithful companion in all of his endeavors is his loyal german shepherd. Will Smith does a fine job of holding his own; it's a better performance than one might expect in terms of the genre. He carries with him sanity that is slowly wearing away and a burden of guilt of what has happened to the earth. He is desperately lonely and sets up mannequins around the city to interact with, but it's mostly his dog who he talks to. One devastatingly emotional scene early on involves Neville chasing his dog into a dark warehouse where the creatures are bound to be lurking. This is also where we get our first disturbing glimpse of these creatures, a glimpse which should've been left at that. Later, the creatures' faces are revealed, and although terrifying running at full speed in large groups from afar, they are a bit hokey up close.

I don't like to call the creatures zombies because that'll give the idea that this is strictly a zombie killing movie; that's only a small portion. It's like three movies in one: an apocalyptic disaster movie, a tale of survival, and then the zombie thriller. All three of these seemingly very individual genres all mesh together into one exciting and satisfying package. There are some superb action sequences throughout, including flashbacks that reveal the beginnings of the quarantine of New York City. The movie is slick, well-done, scary, and inventive, but it's the first two-thirds that is the most downright fascinating to experience and is superior over the finish.

"I Am Legend" is the third movie to be adapted from the 1954 Richard Matheson novel, the other two being "The Last Man on Earth" and "The Omega Man." The original creatures were literal vampires instead of leaning more towards super-powered zombies. I guess the vampire part is intact because the creatures are harmed by sunlight. People have complained that the movie is too reliant on special effects. I say if this is where advancements in CG have taken us, let them show us what they can do.

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