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I Am Legend

Will Smith in I Am Legend

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

I AM Legend is Hollywood’s third attempt at recreating Richard Matheson’s source novel for the big screen (following The Last Man On Earth in 1964 and The Omega Man in 1971) but it remains a deeply flawed experience.

The plot centres around Robert Neville (Will Smith), a brilliant scientist, who becomes the last man in New York City after a terrible man-made virus is unleashed and turns most of the population into flesh-eating zombies.

The infected can only exist in the dark and so Neville uses the daylight hours to try and find a cure based around his own immunity and to issue distress calls for survivors who could be listening.

But as he becomes increasingly more desperate and the infected grow more adventurous, it’s only a matter of time before something has to give…

One of the most immediate problems surrounding Francis Lawrence’s movie is that it falls prone to easy comparisons with the far superior 28 Days/Weeks Later franchise – a situation that already led to its postponement way back in 2002, when Michael Bay was initially to have directed Smith in it.

Lawrence attempts to overcome this by adopting a more cerebral approach and focusing on Neville’s mental plight as much as the threat posed by the zombies. Hence, the early part of the film exists in a near-constant state of heightened tension as Neville and his beloved Alsatian travel around an eerily deserted NYC looking for food and survivors.

Smith, for his part, carries the film well and makes Neville a character worth rooting for – one who is prone to different emotions stemming from the guilt he still feels about his inability to prevent the outbreak of the virus or the death of his family in the subsequent evacuation (relayed via a series of impressive flashbacks).

But the film starts to lose its way once Lawrence shows us the infected – CGI creations that fail to terrify as much as the human zombies that ran about in the 28 Days Later movies. Initially, the fear factor remains intact, especially during a tense encounter inside a darkened warehouse, but as they become more visible, so the film’s plausibility starts to diminish.

By the time the film reaches its ridiculous and unnecessarily sentimental final act any goodwill becomes seriously tested and its many flaws all the more apparent. Had Lawrence delivered a killer ending in the style of the original Planet Of The Apes his film might have left a more lasting impression.

Instead and in spite of the good work done by Smith it’s yet another disappointing blockbuster that squanders a strong start by pandering to the all-consuming American need for hope.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 40mins
UK DVD Release Date: April 21, 2008