The one thing I didn�t expects, coming out of I Am Legend, was apathy. But here I am, trying to think of other words I would use to describe my reaction. Words like vanilla, serviceable, adequate, and the blandest word in existence: alright. I was expecting to either praise this film for its vision or damn it for its lack of fidelity. Instead, I�m left struggling to find the correct word to describe this film�s mild nature.
While promoting the film, Will Smith has claimed that I Am Legend finds a sweet spot that combines art and product, a spot he wants to stake out and own permanently. Sadly, these two levels of meaning don�t occur concurrently. The film veers between big-budget brouhaha and quiet, interesting moments. It renders the explosive elements out of place and shortchanges the story.
What lukewarm drama there is concerns Neville�s efforts to understand and defeat the virus that has reduced mankind to a pale imitation of itself. He cruises around with his dog, Sam, searching for fresh meat, gathering corn, and killing what time he can on a strict regimen that calls for daily pull-ups and daily viral study. The scenes of routine work well, establishing how a man could stave off insanity as long as Neville obviously has.
Sam, the dog, is the real standout of these scenes. Will Smith does fine work as a man fighting his own demons, but the dog stays optimistic, loyal, and brave for its owner. Director Francis Lawrence even finds room for little moments of inspiration, as when a butterfly flits in front of Sam�s nose. You know how most people complain about dogs always surviving in a movie? They won�t complain about this dog, because Sam actually earns the sympathy, instead of begging for it. There�s a good dog.
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The remains of New York nearly prove a character in themselves, the buildings serving as enormous gravestones for a world that doesn�t bother to read them. Nature has slowly overtaken the works of man, and deer run free in New York, despite the hindrance of deer not being indigenous to Manhattan. Some of the aesthetic recalls Children of Men, although it�s not quite as dense and foreboding. With all the sunlight, New York looks positively cheery, and it�s nice to see clean traffic lanes for once.
Of course, we all know that some of mankind remains, in the form of fleshy mutations that seek out the dark. The creatures are an attempt to find a happy medium between the original�s villains and the goofier mutants of The Omega Man. They leap and bound and fight with all the realism of Stephen Sommers�s Mummy, rendering most of their action scenes flaccid. The best image of them is the first one, when we briefly see four in a circle, hyperventilating as they sleep. All the other images are tied for worst.
Developments later in the film push the story in a larger direction, although it�s nothing compared to the scale of Independence Day or I, Robot. I guess that�s a good thing, although there are queer religious implications brought up and dismissed with equal speed. I suppose elevating the events to religious parable might upset some people. This film is meant to be as accessible as possible.
There are bizarre decisions made to keep the events of the film PG-13, that attractive middle-of-the-road rating. The female Darkseekers have enough sentience to keep their brassieres maintained. Neville�s first thoughts upon seeing a woman after three years do not involve that most basic of male urges. Instead, he recites a scene from Shrek. I�m not kidding. Only one character bleeds. And the ending tries desperately to create a happy ending that doesn�t betray the original story, but it�s too upbeat for a movie about post-apocalyptic vampires.
I may be making this film out to be worse than what it is, which is an ultimately harmless Hollywood actioneer that does its job efficiently and leaves quietly. Certainly there are positive attributes, but they�re dampened by many poor choices, and I secretly wish this film had never been given the attention and budget. A good adaptation of Matheson�s work requires a team willing to go against convention and, upon reflection, I finally found the word that perfectly describes I Am Legend, one better than compromised, middle-of-the-road, mild, or alright.