Being the last person on Earth is not the kind of job I would ever want. Walking around with no human interaction whatsoever sounds awful. No one to talk to, no one to make fun of people with, no one to make fun of, and no one to have sex with. In short, if something like that ever happened and I just so happened to be that unlucky bloke, I’d find the nearest pistol and end my days faster than you can finish this sentence. Author Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” tells such a story and this new film adaptation does a serviceable job following the blueprint.
Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last man on Earth living in New York City. In 2009, a man-made disease wipes out a good portion of the human race and leaves the rest of them a sort of cross-breed of vampire and those angry zombies from “28 Days Later.” Neville is somehow immune to the infection, which is a good thing, as he just so happens to be scientist. So for the past three years, he spent his time building himself a lab in his basement. Anytime he needs an infected animal or ex-human to test on, he heads out in daytime to set traps.
The first half of the film creates an amazing sense of loneliness. Neville wanders about the empty city, passing by familiar busy locales now abandoned and covered with shrubbery. There is rarely a focus on what lurks in the night. The character often creates dialogue with his surroundings, though it’s still quite silent enough to keep the mood strong.
The incredible amount of buildup and excitement of the first half ends up driving us down the road to disappointment, however. The last act has enough problems to fill a Jay Z song and quickly extinguishes any flame of interest you had up until this point. The creature effects are as basic as any Sci-Fi Channel movie, yet shots of the vacant city are some of the best of the year. The climax feels rushed and the ending delivers some weakly obvious narration as if the audience is deaf and blind.
Director Francis Lawrence has an incredible talent for creating these vastly stark words. His last film, “Constantine” (2005), is probably one of the most beautiful cinematic disasters ever made. “I Am Legend” is nowhere near that flawed, yet never fully realizes its potential. Instead of being the science fiction masterpiece Matheson fans have been salivating for since the 80s (when Schwarzenegger was once attached), it’s just another average Hollywood popcorn flick.