Plot: Years after a plague kills most of humanity and transforms the rest into monsters, the sole survivor in New York City struggles valiantly to find a cure in this post-apocalyptic action thriller.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Released: December 2007
There have been many attempts to bring Richard Matheson’s classic science-fiction novel to the big screen and even more failed attempts. Thankfully, Francis Lawrence and his team managed to not only get the film off the ground but also produced a hugely entertaining post-apocalyptic chiller.
Although it changes some aspects of the book, just as The Omega Man and The Last Man On Earth had done beforehand, the script still manages to remain a cut above the usual mindless big-budget horror/sci-fi films we are usually treated to these days. I am Legend avoids the trap of making the film all about the star or filling it with action scenes to make up for a weak plot, instead, the action is used when it needs to be. For the most part the focus on protagonist Robert Neville, steadily losing his mind and his purpose, though when it needs to you are treated to some blisteringly intense sequences that add to the plot rather than detract from it.
Director Lawrence does a great job of generating tension and suspense, managing to make darkness the enemy and using silence to craft a genuine atmosphere of fear throughout. Even in the most lighthearted of scenes, the palpable sense of tension and unease never feels too far away. I’m glad that Lawrence was able to resist the temptation of using jump scares and other horror cliches to further the plot.
Reminding me of the shots of London in 28 Days Later, the beautifully vacant shots of New York are expertly done and moving in places, with the flashback sequences the chaotic mass evacuation of New York helping to not only hit home the how bleak the present is for Doctor Neville but also how quickly mankind can fall apart. As such, it is all the more disappointing when the film descends into the more formulaic fight for survival in the final act, especially as the computer-generated “infected” creatures now feel limited at best and prevents you from taking them seriously, Personally, I feel the film would have benefited from the use of actual live-action actors with makeup the film, adding to the excellent work Lawrence had done early on to make the unseen so frightening.
With only a dog and several mannequins for company, for the most part, the film focuses mainly on the tremendously charismatic Will Smith, who more than proves to be up to the challenge. Keeping the humour to a minimum, Smith delivers an engaging and often heartbreaking performance as Dr Neville. Smith’s performance is easily worth viewing in itself.
Despite the issues with the CGI and a final third that makes you think of what if, I am Legend still manages to deliver a thoughtful gripping horror sci-fi. With Will Smith producing another solid performance that takes him a little out of his comfort zone.