LYT's Film Pick of the Weekend 12-14-07
I AM LEGEND
Will Smith has been a legend before onscreen, but while Bagger Vance carried golf clubs for the white man, the new legendary Will shoots white people. Really white people. Mutants, in fact, who got that way due to a cure for cancer that went a little awry (all Emma Thompson's fault, as it turns out), turning every human being into a super-charged chemotherapy victim, sort of like the singer from Midnight Oil. Debate amongst yourselves whether they count as vampires or zombies – they eat flesh, get badly burned by sunlight, and can spread their disease by biting, except if you're Will Smith and happen to be immune because your T-cells were all, like, “Awww hell nahhh!”
I try to avoid reviewing other reviews most of the time, but the LA Times critic said it seemed awfully coincidental that the last man on earth also happens to be super-strong and super-smart, and I have to ask why is that coincidental? Isn't a strong, smart person more likely to survive an apocalypse than some dumbass? SHAUN OF THE DEAD was a comedy, y'know. If you can't whup some ass, you won't survive a mutant armageddon. Pee-wee Herman was probably one of the first to die.
Smith, playing a guy named Robert Neville, seems to be the last man on Earth who hasn't yet become a computer-generated albino, and he's stubbornly sticking it out in new York because that's the source, and he figures the cure is there somewhere, probably to be derived from his blood. His only companion is a dog named Sam, which later turns out to be short for Samantha – why screenwriter Akiva Goldsman thought this sudden canine gender reveal late in the game had any significance whatsoever is beyond me, but it's played like it does. Maybe there was beastiality at some point, and they don't want Neville to seem gay? Who knows. Moving on.
For about three quarters of its running time, I was thinking this could be one of the very best movies of the year. It's epic in scope, has cool mutant battles, structures the flashbacks in very nicely, and yet it also features great small moments with Smith, forced to act opposite nothing more than dummies, a dog, and CG stuff that isn't there, who gives a performance on par with Tom Hanks' nearly silent sequence in CAST AWAY. It's easy for some people to dismiss Smith because the trailers for many of his movies like to focus on the moments when he delivers smarmy catchphrases, but the man is much more than that, and as he ages and doesn't get cast as the hipster kid any more, you're going to see his true skills more and more. Also, his ears don't stick out as much as they used to.
But the problem is that the movie poster lies – Neville is not the last man on Earth. And once other people show up, things get boringly predictable and the movie sputters to the finish line. Where its predecessor THE OMEGA MAN – based on the same Richard Matheson novel – culminated in hardcore blasphemy, I AM LEGEND limps into banality, possibly because, like its braying mutants when compared to OMEGA's articulate albino fundamentalists, it doesn't have much to say.
Aw, hell, it's still fun. But it comes so close to being classic.
(Also, it seems the new Batman movie trailer will be premiering in front of it. So there's that.)