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I Am Legend

There are Worse Things than Cancer

In 2009, the cure for cancer is discovered. Three years later, virtually everyone on the planet is dead. Apparently this "cure" has a nasty habit of turning its host into rabid, bloodthirsty, sunshine intolerant monsters. Fortunately, one of the last (if not the last) humans on the planet (Will Smith) is a brilliant scientist who is actively seeking a cure for this heinous virus. Unfortunately, his efforts haven’t exactly panned out.

In the interim, Robert Neville (Will Smith) spends his days hunting, gathering, playing golf, trying to contact any other humans, and staying alive in I Am Legend. I Am Legend is the third film based on the original short story "I Am Legend" by novelist Richard Matheson. The first was The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price and the cheesy Omega Man with Charlton Heston. Mercifully, I Am Legend bears virtually no resemblance to the prior films.

Making a film like I Am Legend is no walk in the park given that it’s primarily Neville and his dog we’re watching for most of the film. As chatty as Neville is, their conversations are not exactly riveting. Director Francis Lawrence does a nice job of shedding light on who Neville is and what his day to day existence is like without boring the audience with endless silent scenes of Neville wandering around a decrepit and empty metropolis.

Lawrence deftly intersperses flashback sequences that align with the few hours of sleep Neville gets in the evening. It’s here where we learn that the cure for cancer had evolved into the virus that has claimed nearly everyone on the planet. We also learn the fate of his family during these dream/flashback sequences.

Lawrence also does a good job of not showing us the infected right away. This creates a reasonable amount of tension and anxiety. It’s scary as hell to see Neville walking through a desolate New York knowing that the infected are likely watching him hungrily from a dark apartment or restaurant somewhere.

When the infected make their presence known, it’s pretty terrifying. We understand right away why Neville bars his windows and doors with iron. He’s up against something that few would survive a few days, let alone a few years. Fortunately, Neville’s also a solider, so his survival instincts are well honed.

Smith’s performance as Neville is solid. Smith is a good actor, but it’s been some time since we’ve seen him stretch in any way, shape, or form. Neville could easily have been Del Spooner from I, Robot or Mike Lowrey from Bad Boys. Smith has done so many action films and his characterization in each is often so similar that it’s hard to differentiate one from the other. This is not to say his performance is bad, it’s just predictable.

I Am Legend is a well crafted and executed action film. Director Frank Lawrence does a good job of developing Neville as a character and making the audience care. Action sequences are well thought out and delivered, but the film is not rife with one mindless action sequence after another. In short, it’s one of the best action films of the year.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars