An apocalyptic thriller, viral outbreak parable, last-man-on-Earth adventure, and humanity/man’s best friend-analysis, IAL is one of the diverse end of the world films – despite poor CGI, saved by a (legendary) Smith performance. 7.3/10.
Plot Synopsis: Robert Neville (Will Smith), a brilliant scientist, is a survivor of a man-made plague that transforms humans into bloodthirsty mutants. He wanders alone through New York City, calling out for other possible survivors, and works on finding a cure for the plague using his own immune blood. Neville knows he is badly outnumbered and the odds are against him, and all the while, the infected wait for him to make a mistake that will deliver Neville into their hands.
*Possible Spoilers Ahead*
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Muhammad Ali, Genie, Dr. Omalu, Man In Black, Bad Boy, 4x-Grammy Winner, & Apocalypse Survivor?
Will Smith – The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Muhammad Ali, Aladdin’s Genie, The Suicide Squad’s Deadshot, NFL-beligerrent Dr. Omalu, Independence Day-veteran, Man In Black, certified-Bad Boy, and 4x-Grammy winner/2x-Academy Award nominated mogul. The man is now one of the biggest and most powerful actors in the world – a staple in modern Hollywood/blockbuster history. On this cinematic roadtrip/filmography, there were some bumpy backroads, bizarre routes, and gambling choices. I Am Legend was one of them – a post-apocalyptic thriller based on Matheson’s groundbreaking horror novel, but a work already adapted 3x previously to little cinematic memorability. Francis Lawrence’s bold film, however, reimagined it on a modern-and-massive scale that gave Mr. Smith the canvas he needed to paint a masterwork: one that stands as one of the best performances and star vehicles of his entire career. A post-apocalyptic thriller, viral outbreak parable, last-man-on-Earth adventure, and delicate humanity/man’s best friend-analysis, IAL is one of the most diverse end-of-the-world films – despite poor CGI and a bizarre ending, saved by a (legendary) Will Smith performance.
The Opening & Secretive Plot Structure
A Cure For Cancer, With 100% Success Rate?
The film starts with a normalcy-apparent Sportscenter-segment interviewing virologist Dr. Alice Krippin, who is believed to have found the ‘cure to Cancer’ by hijacking the measles virus and turning it into a ‘benevolent force, rather than a malicious one.’ Beginning an apocalyptic thriller with such a hopeful, light, airy establishing scene is a bizarre choice – one that compels us to let our guards down with statistics like an unfathomable 100% Success Rate in clinical trials for this miracle cure. However, the scene instanteously shifts to a desolate landscape of no life to even be found – assaulting our senses with eerie quietness and demanding answers to the question at-hand: what happened to everyone? The film’s mysterious plot structure laying out its events is quite smart, keeping the viewer engaged and trying to piece together tiny plot points gleamed from momentary glimpses at a newspaper cutout on the fridge or periphery of the scene instead of coming right out from the beginning with the apocalypse’s events. The freedom this motif allows spawns for a plethora of different genres to be juggled – which the film has plenty of fun doing.
The Diversity Of Genres & Themes
An Apocalyptic Thriller, Viral Outbreak Parable, Last-Man-On-Earth Adventure, & Humanity/Man’s Best Friend-Analysis
What’s I Am Legend’s (hereby abbreviated: IAL) biggest selling point beyond its lead is its thematic and genre-diversity. The film is foremost a big box-office blockbuster, boasting pulse-thumping action and visceral thrills in otherwise-impossible situations from the second we see Neville & Sam first zoom in V8-Mustang amongst a stampede of deer through a deserted NYC. On that note, the film also has plenty of fun with the idea of a post-apocalyptic world and the primordial escapism of imagining what it would be like to be the last man on earth – time-trials through the streets of downtown/Time’s Square in a supercar, having the time to watch every single movie in the videostore (what a life!), practice your golf swing off military aircraft, and relentless peace-and-isolation any introvert will salivate at the prospect of. Between all these fun moments is a harrowing viral outbreak parable invoking themes of science’s limits (or should-be limits) pushing the natural order, religion and what God’s complicity in our grief/suffering is, and man’s need for social interaction and connection – here, handled beautifully by the film’s heart-bursting and string-tugging duality of man and man’s best friend: Sam, the German Shepherd.
The Performances & Man’s Best Friend
A Duality Central To IAL That Showcases Will Smith At His Absolute Peak Brilliance – & One Of Cinema’s Great Canine-Characters
The performances and duality central to I Am Legend are sensational. Will Smith’s strong-yet-warm, nuanced, street-smart, palpable masculine lead evokes nostalgia of classic ’80’s thrillers – bolstered by fantastic range playing everything from a resolute/haunted military official to brilliant virologist to nomadic rogue hunting for food & supplies amongst the guerrilla streets of post-apocalyptic NYC.. all in the same movie. IAL serves as a star-vehicle like none other for Smith; a canvas he’s able to take and paint a masterpiece on, that stands as perhaps the most definitive and greatest performance of his career in CLC’s vote – showcasing why W.S. is (and deserves every bit of his status as) one of the last true movie stars of the modern era. Neville’s furry friend and fellow protagonist Sam is one of the most adorable buddy-cop partners ever in a blockbuster, tugging at mankind’s heartstrings in its exploration of the unshakable bond between man and canine: aptly-named man’s best friend. Through impressive animal training and discipline, he is just as much a character as any human – growing a strong bond and charismatic-chemistry with Smith that works magically, and will decimate the pith of your soul when they’re finally separated by fate or bad coincidence. Heartbreaking.
The Beauty Of Apocalypse
A Symbolically-Rich, Commentative Use Of Cinematography & Soundtrack
The cinematography & score of I Am Legend are quite compelling. Visually, the film boasts textbook-shot constructions/compositions – exemplified best by its utilization to establish the film’s post-apocalyptic world, cycling through crisply-edited and dynamic shots of even the center of civilization in NYC/Time’s Square.. deprived of the masses of people we absolutely expect to be rat-racing amongst them. There are even symbolic or commentative shots in the cinematography as well, visible in scenes like the ending Butterfly glass and even the same NYC sequence on leftover tank amongst the downtown streets zooming-in a poster saying ‘God Still Loves Us – Do We Still Love Him?’ with a twist of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation Of Adam’ painting in us holding a gun to God’s hand reaching out for us to symbolize our destructive dissolution of religiosity and track-record of death/violence over time. The soundtrack utilizes Bob Marley extensively as a theme – cleverly parlaying it as humorous irony, Neville’s daughter’s name, and an emblem of hope. The consistent use of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ ironizes the post-apocalyptic world we see around Neville – tricking our senses into a state of relaxation and freedom, when the real situation demands alarm and fear beyond anything imaginable being the last person on Earth and walking amongst demonic creatures capable of ending life in a minute. It also gives Neville escapism and positivity to keep going and persevering in the face of unspeakable death and spirit-decimation, as well as a subversion of most apocalyptic films’ gloom-and-doom tone for something full-of-heart – tying it into its premise with analytical lines like ‘[Marley’s] idea was like a virologist’s idea; He believed he could cure racism/hate with love and happiness.’
A Trainwreck Of Incalculable Proportions; Cartoonish & Laughable; Realism-Decimating; The Worst CGI I’ve Ever Seen
Flaws in IAL are only in two things, but they’re so massive they nearly cripple the film worse than the Krippin virus: The CGI & Ending. The CGI in I Am Legend might be the worst CGI I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. A movie made in 2007 with a $150,000,000-budget scarcely-used in any other facet of the comparatively-meek rest of film, I cannot remotely understand how this trainwreck happened. The photo above shows the concept art of the Darkseekers – absolutely brilliant and bone-chilling with a less-is-more zombie-nostalgia to ’60’s greats like Night Of The Living Dead the original novel inspired – juxtaposed with the final product: so cartoonish, non-believable, and laughable, it decimates any remote shred of realism the rest of the film establishes and will haunt your nightmares worse than any virus or pandemic. The part of the film this epic failure of rarified proportions is most visible is also its worst thematically/storytelling-wise: the finale that nearly-breaks the entire film itself.
A Final Act Failure That Feels Like A Michael Bay-Homage & Mindless, Cacophonous, Masochistic Explosion-Fest; One Of The Worst Endings Post-2000
The ending of Lawrence’s IAL also stands as one of the worst endings in the history of apocalyptic cinema. A home invasion by superhuman Darkseekers – able to break through the barricades and barriers that have kept Neville safe for years story-wise in mere-seconds – follows Neville and his two other character counterparts (that feel half-baked and underdeveloped/disinteresting) to the basement: a clichéd trope in horror/zombie films and one making no sense why an army of hundreds of Darkseekers can’t break through instantly. When Neville discovers that he finally cured the virus via a test subject, his instinct is to – inexplicably – abruptly sacrifice himself, one grenade killing off the entire army pursuing them, I guess. The ending of the film feels more like a Michael Bay-movie: cacophonous, mindless, destructive blockbuster blow-up/explosion masochism to distract weak minds from any semblance of storytelling.. and could not be more tonally incongruent with the rest of the film or previous-characterization glory if it tried. The Director’s Cut ending humanizing the lead alpha of The Darkseekers and painting science as a malevolent force utilizing prized family members as test-subjects is wildly-better, and I cannot begin to understand why they did not use that to begin with or featured more prominently (I only found out about it doing research after) – if they were going to change the original novel’s ending at all, one of the few areas it did not take intelligent liberties with.
Overall, IAL overcomes the lethal dangers of its breathtakingly-awful CGI & flop-ending to deliver a smart, thrilling, immaculately-performed glimpse into the end of civilization and indomitability of the human spirit. It stands as perhaps the best work in Will Smith’s entire filmography, establishing him as one of the last true, nostalgic Hollywood superstars we should count our lucky stars to be seeing. The Man’s Best Friend arc will tug at your heartstrings, Lawrence’s changes to the original novel (mostly)-intelligent, and post-apocalyptic fun turned up for a time at the movies fringed with themes and enjoyability. A post-apocalyptic thriller, viral outbreak parable, last-man-on-Earth adventure, and delicate humanity/man’s best friend-analysis, IAL is one of the most diverse end-of-the-world films – packed to the brim with heart, emotion, action, and curiosity about the condition of mankind. The elegant film underneath is betrayed by poor CGI amongst the worst the pandemic genre has ever seen and a vexatious ending that near-ruins the project, but it’s saved by a (legendary) Will Smith performance enunciative of one of the last true movie stars of this era.
Official CLC Score: 7.3/10