" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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I suppose you could say that I Am Legend has a lot going for it.

For one, it has Will Smith. He plays a 50-year-old scientist. The scene of him, shirtless, doing pull-ups makes that characterization fairly implausible, but it’s exactly what a lot of teenagers will be hoping to get for their $8.

For another, it has Smith bantering with his trusty sidekick Sam, a German shepherd. Will Smith and a dog? Can’t miss!

Best of all, it has some neat computer-generated shots of an abandoned, overgrown Manhattan, complete with herds of deer and a pride of lions.

What the movie is missing is a plot, character development, a plausible ending, and fidelity to the source material.


Smith and the dog are likeable, but so what?
Smith and the dog are likeable, but so what?

Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist in service back when the viral cure for cancer was discovered. As the movie’s flashbacks show, the cure turned out to be worse than the disease, and Neville was in charge of containing the spread of the virus. In the present timeline, Neville is the only person left alive on Manhattan. For three years he’s been studying the disease in rats, hunting deer from the best car he could hotwire, and watching movies alphabetically.

The world isn’t completely empty, though. At night the former New Yorkers, who now look like Bat Boy’s extended family, come out to feed. The cure for cancer has turned them into the screaming, fast-moving, extremely aggressive undead. Neville has a bag of tricks and a minor arsenal that helps him deal with the mutants. His forays into the city look like any of a dozen of first-person shooter video games.

A few developments hint at a plot. Smith discovers a compound that decreases the aggression in rat number 6. And the vampires, who I assumed were mindless monsters, start messing with Neville’s head. But neither of these developments leads to anything you’d call a plot.

When the requisite new development arrives at the one-hour mark, even that fails to change Neville in any meaningful way.

Disappointment on Disappointment

As the credits rolled, I felt a mild sense of disappointment. The movie felt padded; Shrek ran on Neville’s TV for what seemed like minutes. The ending was abrupt. None of the film’s potential themes ever played out. There didn’t seem to be much of a point to the movie, but okay, whatever....

And then I found out that the book from which the movie takes its title was a completely different story. The book had depth, character development, more interesting villains, thought-provoking themes, and a poetically meaningful ending. Another friend said the book was good enough to make you cry.

Suddenly “mediocre” seemed too good for this botched adaptation. Further reflection only makes the movie less coherent. Why, for example, are the vampires still interested in Neville after 3 years? They can’t want to eat him, because after 3 years, they’d have all starved — after all, he’s the only “food” in town. It can’t be a deep cultural hatred because — again, he’s the only one of his kind left — they’ve already “won” the culture war by attrition. The book actually offers a good reason for their hatred, but the movie just asks you to swallow it without thinking.

In short, unless you want to see Will Smith with his shirt off, you’re better off spending two hours reading the novella than watching this movie.