Saturday 2 September 2017

Movie Review: I Am Legend (2007)

A science fiction horror thriller, I Am Legend is a compact rollick through impressive post-apocalyptic territory.

In the near future, former Army medical doctor Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the sole human survivor is an abandoned and destroyed New York City. The Krippin virus, initially developed as a cure for cancer, has mutated and wiped out most of humanity. Those who survive have morphed into violent Darkseekers, flesh eating zombie-like creatures who avoid the light but rule the night.

Neville is immune to the virus, and along with his dog Sam, he survives on a day to day basis, although increasingly slipping into delusions caused by abject loneliness. In his homemade lab Neville continues experiments to try and find an antidote, while sending out desperate radio calls to try and connect with any other survivors. Led by an increasingly bold alpha male, the Darkseekers start to stalk Neville.

The third film adaptation of the Richard Matheson book, I Am Legend benefits from terrific set designs, featuring an eerily desolate New York devoid of humanity. Director Francis Lawrence creates a bleak tableau where nature is reclaiming a once thriving metropolis, and a singular man now inhabits what used to be home for millions. It's a chillingly surreal vision of a future where civilization is wiped out, one man reverting to hunter gatherer status.

And I Am Legend thrives on the mood of loneliness. For most of the film this is a one-person show, Neville a solitary human, the story told through his eyes and in his head. His continued search for a cure appears to be a Quixotic quest for the impossible, his fight against the Darkseekers an asymmetrical conflict waiting for one slip up.

Will Smith delivers one of his better dramatic performances, carrying the entirety of the film. He combines customary cool with hints of hallucinations. The flashbacks to the night Manhattan was evacuated and Neville separated from his family provides another opportunity for Lawrence to create an imposing set, this time teaming with thousands of panicked residents and military types. The events of that frenzied night continue to haunt Neville, giving Smith plenty of traumatic depth to latch onto.

When Neville interacts with the Darkseekers the action scenes are fast, frantic and violent, and the overuse of CGI necessitates jerky and often less than coherent editing. The efficient running time of 100 minutes imposes a rushed final, and while the ending is reasonably satisfying, it leaves some intriguing Darkseeker threads unexplored.

I Am Legend offers an eerie vision of the future, beautiful in its wretched bleakness. The City's sole survivor is in a desperate fight to maintain humanity's tenuous hold on the planet, but he does get to experience the stunning roll back of civilization.

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