Fans of Richard Matheson’s book, of which I Am Legend is based on, need to push the idea of seeing that story brought to life immediately out of their heads. Typically when a film is based on a novel and it keeps the same name you can at least expect the same mood and relative storyline featured in the book. While I Am Legend does neither of these things, only using Matheson’s story as a framework for the film, this is not a bad thing; that is as long as you realize a movie and the book it was based on are separate beings. After all, this isn’t Harry Potter; legions of fans won’t be boycotting it if a page is left out.
The story of I Am Legend centers on the idea that the cure for cancer has been found. Unfortunately, shortly after patients are “cured” they soon begin showing signs of on setting rabies, which ultimately turns into something so bad the people are referred to only as “The Infected”. After this short introduction the film immediately jumps three years into the future where the earth is completely void of human life and Robert Neville (Will Smith) appears to be the only survivor, he and his dog Samantha.
Neville was a military scientist charged with finding a cure for the infection, and three years later, living in the middle of a hellish world in which The Infected carry on vampire-like qualities, unable to walk in sunlight and forced to come out at night, he still searches for that cure.
I Am Legend is a fantastic movie for 50 minutes of its runtime. The opening of the film is perfectly designed and the visuals showing an empty New York City overrun with weeds and wildlife is stunning to say the very least. Neville’s tactics of survival are well fleshed out without becoming tedious, his fear of those that live in the dark is obvious and his canine companion is not the typical Hollywood cliche trying to give audiences that happy feeling you may expect. I Am Legend works on pretty much all surface levels, the action and emotional cues work, but there are a few issues if you look a little bit deeper than just the surface.
First off, The Infected are never fully realized. Some audiences may begin to wonder just what exactly is wrong with them. They obviously display vampire-like instabilities (fear of the sun, drinking blood, etc.) but I don’t remember them ever being referred to as vampires, instead it is described as a strain of rabies at one point, and mutation at another. Neville occasionally shows signs of mental decline, such as carrying on conversations with mannequins. The issue is not that he shows these signs; it is the fact that they come and go whenever it suits the story. It’s hard to believe that a man who is talking to mannequins would still hold the mental capacity to continue his scientific research.
Finally, the ending is terrible. It is a flat out Hollywood cop out and a complete 180 from what the first 50 minutes offered up. I Am Legend shows signs of originality and unexpected plot turns before resorting to skin-of-your-teeth saves and comfy cozy endings to keep American audiences happy. It’s a damn shame too, because this film is going to make a lot of money at the box-office, but it isn’t going to come away as a film to be remembered.
Fans of Matheson’s novel and those that have never heard of it are sure to enjoy this film on one level or another. Like I said, the first half of I Am Legend is fantastic. You will be drawn into Neville’s character and his first confrontation with The Infected is sure to get your heart racing. However, once the intense nature of the first 50 minutes wears off and the emotion comes pouring in, everything that made the first half good is forgotten. This is a film with two faces in which you must see just to enjoy the one face and simply live with the other.