There are movies that are bad from start to finish and movies that suddenly go wrong half the way or a third of the way through. But the downsizing of the movie has resulted in 90 minute movies that work fine until they’re suddenly compressed or cut off until they feel like the Sopranos series finale. That is I Am Legend’s problem.
I Am Legend is a movie with two great first acts and no third act to speak of. A 90 minute movie, I Am Legend puts 78 of those minutes to great use in a slow and methodical examination of Will Smith as Neville’s life in New York City after a cure for cancer created a virus that wiped out most of the human race and turned the remainder into monsters intent on killing and devouring the few immune survivors. As far as Neville is concerned, he is the last man on earth. Much as with Castaway there is very little dialogue here, just Neville’s daily routine and the dreadful loneliness of an abandoned, overgrown and haunted city. Indeed New York City has never looked as desolate and ominous as it does here.
In the first act, Neville is living his routine accompanied by flashbacks of the evacuation of New York City as he does his best to get his family out. In the second act someone has set a wicked trap for Neville, he is being stalked and slowly beginning to fall apart and lose his mind. And then comes the third act, the place where the movie should begin but actually ends. If you have read the Richard Matheson novel,. I Am Legend, when Neville meets a woman and child who claims be another survivor, you would assume that there is more to the story. There isn’t. The third act of I Am Legend is a clumsy mixture of bad pop culture references and an ending so trite that really isn’t even worth spoiling. If you can imagine the lowest common denominator play on I Am Legend, you’ve got it there.
I Am Legend has a solid performance from Will Smith as a man on the edge of sanity and good work from Director Liu who makes watching Smith’s routine into a revelation. I Am Legend however has no script. Most of the movie is all but dialogue free and it should run about 10 script pages. This works fine for as long as Smith is alone but for Sam, his dog, and wandering a silent deserted New York City. Once new characters are introduced, the movie completely falls apart. We have a scene of Will Smith doing a bad imitation of Shrek with the whole bit intended to position Neville as a Shrek figure. No I’m not kidding. Then there’s a 5 minute speech about Bob Marley. The new woman delivers an insane speech about being inspired by God to turn on the radio and hear his voice, that as it turns was actually meant to be taken at face value.
And finally there are the vampires. They’re not so much vampires as zombies and the virus has apparently and unaccountably given them not only funny looking faces and skin, but the ability to crawl on callings, jump three stories and smash through steel and tempered glass. They’re supposed to be nothing more than animals, yet as it turns out they track Neville and construct a rather complicated trap to catch him while mockingly using the store dummies he talks to to bait the trap and a puddle of oil to conceal it. It’s senseless, dumbed down and absurd.
Where I Am Legend the novel took a twist, I Am Legend the movie is exactly what it seems. There is no turn or twist. There is simply nothing except a violent showdown and a tearjerking ending. As it turns out, I Am Legend is more of a remake of The Omega Man, minus the downbeat ending, the political parables or any of the content. As it turns out the last man on earth is not the last man on earth. But he probably should have been.