Monday, 31 December 2007

Film Review: I Am Legend

Watching I Am Legend made me consider this: if I was the last man on Earth, Will Smith would be dead.

This thought proved only a brief distraction before I remembered that I’d dropped seven quid to watch an infinitely inferior re-telling of Richard Matheson’s iconic novel.

Not that I should’ve expected much. Writer/producer Akiva Goldsman was responsible for clunkers like Batman & Robin, The Da Vinci Code and Lost In Space, and director Francis Lawrence’s best work includes the videos for Avril Lavigne’s Sk8ter Boi and Britney’s I Am Slave 4 U.

While it’s a bit of a stretch to believe Big Willie Style as a top-ranking solider, a world-renowned scientist AND the only person in New York immune to the virus, Smith is much better than might be expected. In fact, the first half of the film is utterly enjoyable. Smith portrays Robert Neville perfectly: as a desperately lonely man driven to the edge of madness by his inability to accept his fate.

It’s Neville’s strict routine – as seen in the trailers – that is the only thing keeping him from going totally bonkers. When that routine is broken – in one of the movie’s stand-out scenes – his mind finally unravels and he is revealed as the frightened and hateful character from Matheson’s novel.

It’s in the third act, when Big Willie is joined by City Of God’s Alice Braga that the film collapses in a sickly puddle of saccharine moralising and cloying theology; Smith riffs on Bob Marley’s desire to heal humanity via rhythms and lyrics, the mutants – loud, hairless, mucousy CGI abominations that wouldn’t look out of place in a Berlin techno club – become annoyingly visible, while the messianic overtures around Neville build to uncomfortable levels.

Product placement opportunities aside – the last man on Earth would only ever drive cars made by Ford, apparently – it’s hard to see the point of remaking I Am Legend. The 1964 Vincent Price version of the film is vastly superior and actually delivers on the crux of the novel: that man becomes monster.

If they’d replaced the dog with Carlton Banks, and Alice Braga and her son with Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil, it would’ve been a great movie.

But they didn’t, so it’s not.

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