This week I delve into the world of science-fiction and take a look at Francis Lawrence’s 2007 end-of-the-world flick, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith… And a dog.
The general low-down of the situation is as follows – a deadly virus, which started out as a cure for cancer, has left three different kinds of people behind: dead ones (which is how most people ended up), infected ones (mutated, blood-thirsty humans that have become intolerant of the sun’s UV light) and alive ones, immune to the virus (of which there are very few, just one in fact, as we are led to believe). Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) is the apparent lone survivor of the outbreak, living in a run-down, overgrown New York City and, with the aid of his dog, Sam, is trying to develop a cure. So how well does it stand up to my very high cinematic standards?
Very well is the answer. Excellent, onto the next review, see y’all next week. Honestly, it doesn’t require a great deal more than that to sell it. But if you really want me give some details, I suppose I can oblige.
…we are treated to a much more interesting and altogether fully-rounded character…
The premise, for starters, is always one that grabs my attention, as I love post-apocalyptic settings for films. It must appeal to some deep-seated desire in me to trek through the wilderness, clad in a black leather jacket, wielding a sword and crossbow, cutting down lame-brains in search of food, shelter and opportunities to look like a bad-ass. And that’s a direction Lawrence could have taken with this film, especially with the Fresh Prince at the helm. Many would have expected to see Smith in typical form, whipping out funny remarks left, right and centre and having a good time taking care of the zombie-like ‘dark seekers’ that hunt him, but instead we are treated to a much more interesting and altogether fully-rounded character. Neville has had no human contact in the three years that he has spent alone, and as the story unfolds, we begin to see just how much of a toll that has taken on his psyche.
At the beginning of the film, Neville appears to be what we expected from Will Smith, with the odd Prince-ism sneaking through here and there, as we see that the relationship he shares with his dog is one of great companionship, while some of the quips at the inanimate mannequins dotted about the city are rather amusing. But with the progression of the film, it’s clear that these remarks are not quite so tongue-in-cheek as first thought. Neville has deteriorated to a mental state where he is incredibly dependent on these ‘relationships’ in order to hold onto what little sanity he has left.
…he puts in the most accomplished performance of his career…
This was a bold choice from the filmmakers, but credit must go to them for making it work, particularly with the fact that they cast arguably the coolest man in Hollywood to play what is actually quite a tragic and frail man. It was good that they didn’t then try to change the character to fit the actor, and instead trusted in Smith’s ability to portray Neville as originally envisaged. And I have to say, he puts in the most accomplished performance of his career. The connection that the audience has with the protagonist’s emotions is very strong – when he cries, we feel his sadness, when he’s hysterical, we feel his madness, but most of all, when he is scared, we really do see it in Smith’s acting. 10/10 and a gold star to you, young William.
The narrative of I Am Legend can almost be split into two clear halves, with the first 45 minutes or so comprising almost entirely of Neville and Sam scouring the city for supplies, while briefly introducing the dark seekers. With the use of minimal dialogue, Smith’s performance and stellar cinematography, these sequences manage to build the tension beautifully without actually putting the protagonist in any immediate danger, which is quite an accomplishment. So when Neville and Sam are eventually thrust into perilous circumstances, the impact of the scene is that much more prominent.
…prepare for your masculinity to be put under rigorous testing…
Without a doubt though, the scene that 99% of people will remember most vividly from this film, comes at around the hour mark. It’s hard not give too much away, so I’ll just say this: for anyone who claims to posses a soul, or indeed any form of compassion, it’s utterly heart-wrenching. Marley & Me (2008) is still, to date, the only film that has managed to reduce this cold, bitter reviewer to tears, but I came treacherously close to repeating that blubbering act upon seeing this movie. Any guys planning on watching this film with a woman, prepare for your masculinity to be put under rigorous testing, and take great precautions to ensure that your dignity survives the evening.
Once tears have been dried and honours restored however, the movie takes a new turn that, for me, is somewhat less enjoyable. Unfortunately, by including the previous scene in the story, it is the only logical direction for the narrative to take though – two new characters are introduced in the form of Anna (Alice Braga), a Brazilian woman who saves Neville’s life, and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), a young boy who, erm… Well he doesn’t actually say or do anything at all, but I’m sure he’s very important in some way, shape or form. The two travelers come hailing of a far and distant land that is somehow untouched by the death and devastation, much to the dismay of the emotional Doctor.
…it does go a bit ‘Hollywood’…
The filmmakers attempted to show Neville’s struggle in adapting to real human interaction, but all of a sudden, after a quick rendition of a scene from Shrek (2001), he’s absolutely fine with them. This was one of my few criticisms of the film, as the creatives had done such an excellent job in the first act to establish Neville’s mental fragility, only to have him overcome it so quickly.
Another disappointment I’ve read about is that of the ending, which has been condemned by certain audiences. Personally, I don’t think it’s half as bad as “the worst ending to a film I’ve ever seen” or “It’s bullshit. Simple as that”, as some sources described it. Admittedly it does go a bit ‘Hollywood’, and I found it hard to believe that a scientist would keep a hand grenade in the top drawer of a desk in his lab, but if you pay attention to some of the more subtle nuances, then you can truly appreciate the emotional and psychological journey that Neville has been on. I Am Legend is not a zombie film about a man killing monsters, it’s actually a story all about humanity – one man’s job to try and restore it to the world, whilst desperately trying to maintain his.
Make your own mind up about the climax and check out the film this Saturday at 10:15 PM, once again on ITV1. Just remember when you’re watching it, the ending might be a bit poor, but the alternate one that can be found on the Blu-Ray edition (and of course on YouTube), is much, much worse. That really is shit of the bull variety.