I AM LEGEND - 2007
Three times is the charm.
I AM LEGEND was written by Mark Protosevich (THE CELL) and Akiva Goldsman (BATMAN FOREVER, LOST IN SPACE, I,ROBOT, THE DA VINCI CODE). It's based on the excellent novel of the same name by Richard Matheson. This novel has been made into a movie twice before: LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), starring Vincent Price and THE OMEGA MAN (1971), starring Charleton Heston.
The story opens with a TV news interview of a scientist (played in an uncredited cameo by Emma Thompson: HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX) explaining how she has engineered a virus that can destroy cancerous tumors in humans. "So you've cured cancer," says the amazed reporter. The scientist smiles and says, "Yes, we have."
Jump to New York City, three years later. The city is empty of humanity. The twisted remains of the bridges that once connected the island of Manhattan with the mainland protrude from the water. Nature is slowly reclaiming the city and herds of deer run through the streets, trying their best to avoid predators like lions presumably escaped from unattended zoos.
Another hunter zooms by in a red mustang. Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith: MEN IN BLACK [all], I, ROBOT) and Sam, his trusty German shepherd, drive around the many abandoned cars and military vehicles looking for food and supplies. Tattered signs posted here and there read, "Quarantine".
This is a post-apocalyptic world. Humanity has been devastated by a mutant form of the cancer-cure virus and as far as Neville knows he may well be the last man on Earth. Neville himself is immune for some unknown reason and one of the things that keeps him going is his desire to find out why and "fix this", in spite of all the evidence that a fix now would be far too late.
Neville is a military doctor and was in charge of finding a cure back before the virus became airborne and the world fell apart. A time magazine cover with his picture is taped to his refrigerator so once upon a time he was well known.
He is all alone now but we see the last days of civilization through his nightmares. That's where we eventually learn the fate of his wife (Salli Richardson: GARGOYLES [TV], ANACONDAS) and daughter (Will Smith's actual daughter, Willow). Humans are a social species and the loneliness is driving Neville mad. His attempts to combat loneliness are comical at first but ultimately very sad.
All of that is an intriguing story in and of itself, but in fact things are much worse. The disease didn't kill everyone infected. Some people (and animals) converted into strange, mutant creatures that only come out when it's dark. Neville hides in his home, behind his steel shutters, while inhuman howls fill the night.
Before I say anything more, let's pause for a
The idea that a genetically engineered virus could turn deadly is perfectly believable so that part of the story is fine. But the idea that the virus could make the entire suite of mutations required to turn humans into the monsters found here is harder to swallow. It essentially makes them into another species and – while not impossible – it's hard to believe that could happen basically by accident.*
That's a minor quibble though because the movie easily achieved the necessary suspension of disbelief.
This is an amazing movie. I'd heard other reviewers say wild things like Will Smith deserves an Oscar nomination for it which seemed over the top until I saw it myself. His sad desperation is emotionally powerful.
I do have a problem, however. If you've never read the novel this won't mean anything to you so watch the movie, enjoy, and don't worry about it. But for those of you who have read it, you know that the title refers to a very specific, very cool twist ending. This movie goes a different way and applies a different meaning to the title and that's fine – they do a good job. But the ending in the novel (which I'm not going to ruin for anyone who hasn't read it) is way cooler and the movie came so close to doing it that way as well.
In other words, they could have had their cool ending and the original very cool ending from the novel combined, for a mega-cool ending that would have been, well, legendary. I've got to take points away for missing that opportunity. I AM LEGEND gets four shriek girls.
copyright 2007 E.C.McMullen Jr.
Return to Movies