Vaguely spoilerish in places…
The opening scene of I Am Legend is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. In spooky American-TV-o’vision you get a faux news clip featuring an uncredited Emma Thompson as a scientist who claims to have cured cancer. She explains how she has evolved the idea of inoculation to use the ravaging effects of the cancer disease to her advantage, how she has reversed the traits of the virus and has created a seemingly foolproof counter to mankind’s greatest killer – and then the screen goes black. It’s an amazing opening. Chilling, dramatic and unnerving, it immediately presents you with a terrific sense of foreboding and despair as you know that this great leap forward can only end badly…
And it does, for when we fade back in we are in a desolate and empty New York City… Times Square has become abandoned and overgrown, the bright lights have faded and died, cars are let to rust and there is an eerie silence that is rarely heard in even the vow-silenced monestary. Something has gone quite horribly wrong. Like I say, it’s a brilliant opening.
Will Smith plays Will Smith. Well, he doesn’t. He plays Will Smith being somebody else with a different name, but he’s quite clearly Will Smith. There are moments when he tries really hard not to be Will Smith, and those moments are sometimes good, but even then you can’t help but think “wow, look how well Will Smith is pretending not to be Will Smith. That must mean he’s a really good actor.” Luckily I like Will Smith, so I enjoyed his pretending and thought it great that he was pretending so hard.
Where was I? Oh yes. So Will Smith is pretending to be a viral biologist army man, which is really useful as he was in charge of New York before everything went wrong AND is the only person in the world who is immune to the virus… think about that for a second! The only person in the world! And he is overwhelmingly qualified to sort it out! That is so lucky for Will Smith! You see, the virus killed most of the world and turned the rest into pigmented albino ‘dark seekers;’ a kind of litigation denying vampire that is medically explainable in it’s aversion to sunlight and while Will Smith has the rule of the roost in daylight, they control the night-time where they run amok and generally eat anything that moves.
So Will Smith is the last human being on Earth. All he once knew has gone and been replaced with CGI; there’s CGI animals, and CGI devastation, and CGI zombies, and CGI cars, and CGI spinning helicopters and CGI people and so much goddamned CGI (even his favourite movie – Shrek – is CGI) that you really begin to empathise with his characters solitude as it must be lonely living on a fucking greenscreen.
By day he hunts CGI deer, and by night he hides from CGI zombies in the bathroom, clinging to his beloved dog Sam (who, in a late developing twist you discover is really a Samantha and just about the biggest surprise in the film – after all, you couldn’t have Will Smith’s emotional support a male character – that’d be too gay).
After about 45 minutes of really hard pretending not to see the CGI, the zombies suddenly overcome all their previously attributed characteristics and start attacking Will Smith. This is ludicrous for several reasons; that they look like the hilariously bad CGI Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns and are totally unscary, that they make traps and cunning plans while supposedly feral and having lost “all traces of being human” and the audience was kind of digging the slow vibe and this has totally lost their attention. The zombies are the worst thing in this movie, a needless CGI interference that tears you out of whatever zen state you were in. These lithe, athletic, sprightly shadows are a laughable foe and totally undermine whatever serious levels of pretending the filmmakers were going for.
Will Smith fights CGI for a while longer, then his dog dies and a couple of Jesus freaks turn up and try to convince him of a settlement colony, then Will Smith denies God – which is like, a whole new level of pretending because to pretend to not believe in God is, like, an indication of HOW FAR his character has fallen… then another inexplicable plot points kicks in and the general murmuring that was in the cinema before becomes a chorus of “WHAT?” as the ending suddenly happens and there’s this overwhelming sense of disappointment.
As you check the credits, you see that Emma Thompson isn’t there. Then you realise that she knows, like you now do, that her part was the best bit and to be associated with any other part would be a discredit.
This film was first kicked into production in 1995. It has gone though numerous big name producers, writers, directors and stars – including Michael Bay, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ridley Scott and the Oscar winning Akiva Goldsman. After 12 years and that much talent this is the best they can come up with. I Am Legend? I Am Bollocks, more like.