I Am Legend is the most recent of the cinematic adaptations of the Richard Matheson tale and it’s also, in oh so many ways, the worst. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that even I Am Omega is slightly better than this film because at least that didn’t try to push itself into every viewing space possible and simply threw Mark Dacascos in the mix and sold itself with that and a standard “soundalike” title provided by the cheeky bods from The Asylum.
There ARE some good things to mention about I Am Legend but it’s a lot easier to get worked up and use energy on all that’s wrong with it. Let me mention the good stuff first, before I forget to mention it at all.
Will Smith is excellent in the lead role. He’s not consistently great, especially in the clumsy final scenes and the numerous flashback moments, but he’s excellent when shown as a man struggling to maintain his sanity in a world he believes himself to be alone in (if you don’t count the sun-dodging creatures that used to be people before a horrid virus changed everything). There are also some nice shots of a New York without people and covered in vegetation, a New York where wild animals have reclaimed the environment and the urban jungle has almost become more jungle than urban. And there’s a great performance from a dog (I’m not being sarcastic here – the dog is excellent). To be fair, the appearance of Alice Braga certainly lifts the film slightly but certainly not enough to compensate for all of the other shortcomings.
And that’s it. Seriously. Those are the only things I will point out as good qualities. The rest of the movie makes so many major mis-steps that it stands up as one of the worst mainstream blockbusters I’ve seen in the past 20 years. It doesn’t even have the strangely mesmerising campy quality of Batman & Robin.
The screenplay is written by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman and it’s telling that both the source novel by Matheson AND the screenplay to The Omega Man are credited because, in my view, it seems as if the writers simply watched The Omega Man and then removed any elements that made the movie a great movie before turning in a huge turd that just couldn’t ever be polished.
Sadly, director Francis Lawrence doesn’t even try to do any polishing. He’s far too busy filling the screen with CGI that ranges from the pretty good (the scenery, wild animals running amock, etc) to the downright atrocious (every single infected character/animal). The fact that so many people wondered just why it was necessary to create the infected characters with computers illustrates just what a big mistake that was.
And then we have the moments of tension. The first encounter with the infected, until the CGI overwhelms things, does have some tension in there but that’s the last but that you get for the whole movie. Instead, viewers are expected to care for someone who keeps making numerous stupid mistakes and to bite their fingernails while our reluctant hero backs away by mutants only being held back by a dwindling ray of sunlight. So running through even a tiny sliver of light is enough to deter slavering, vicious, mutant hounds? I think not.
Despite stiff competition, I Am Legend certainly jostles for a high position in the list of all-time worst blockbusters since the turn of the 21st century. And this opinion comes from someone who didn’t actually mind parts of the second Transformers movie, so that gives you some idea of how bad it must be.
DIRECTOR: FRANCIS LAWRENCE
WRITER: MARK PROTOSEVICH, AKIVA GOLDSMAN (BASED ON THE OMEGA MAN SCREENPLAY WHICH WAS BASED ON THE WORK OF RICHARD MATHESON)
STARS: WILL SMITH, SALLI RICHARDSON, WILLOW SMITH, ALICE BRAGA, CHARLIE TAHAN, EMMA THOMPSON
RUNTIME: 101 MINS APPROX/104 MINS APPROX (ALTERNATE ENDING)