Review: I Am Legend

I saw the original “Omega Man”… the movie on which “I am Legend” is based… back when I was a kid. I was too young to develop any emotional attachment to the original movie or its ending, and I’ve never read the original novel.

That’s a good thing. That means I can avoid all the drama about the changes this latest version makes to the original(s) and form an opinion based purely on the movie itself.

My opinion?

This is a very good film. There are a couple of things about it that bothered me, but those things bothered me a lot. Still, it is an extremely well-made movie that the wife and I enjoyed.

The setup is this: A man-made virus decimates the human population, killing most people outright and transforming the vast majority of the survivors into ultra-violent, vampire-like killing machines. No, they are not zombies. Neither are they vampires. I’d say these things are to vampires what the rage-infected (from 28 Days/Weeks later) are to zombies. It’s difficult to tell what their driving factor is (Food? Blood? Rage? None/All of the above?), and that’s one of the things that bothered me. Anyway, Will Smith’s character is the only surviving uninfected human and is working hard on a cure while trying to survive in the ruins of New York City. It helps that he is both an army officer (thus is rather handy with a gun, but not handy ENOUGH, in my opinion) and some kind of genius scientist. His only companions are a dog and a collection of mannequins that he has rather amusing conversations with (ala “Wilson” in the movie “Castaway”).

How the world got to this point is told teased in a series of flashbacks that are minimally informative… which is a shame, because I would have really liked to see more of that.

The plot is a bit harder to explain because, in my opinion, the writers didn’t know what kind of movie they were trying to make. They give you a movie about monsters… only they treat the monsters as if they aren’t really that important in the film.

What I saw was a movie about Will Smith coping with being the last man on earth, and… oh yeah… there’s monsters trying to bite his face off. That’s a pretty good movie. But there was a subplot that was introduced and subsequently ignored EXCEPT for the fact that it caused everything that happened in the movie. Huh? Yeah, exactly.

It’s fairly obvious to me that the lead monster is both intelligent and still possesses some humanity. He proves himself to be Will Smith’s equal: setting traps, choosing bait, and using animals… all of which are done by both characters. What this monster lacks in genius-level intelligence, he makes up for in ferocity and having an army of mutant supermonsters at his disposal. Will Smith kidnaps this monster’s girlfriend as a test subject, and now the lead monster wants her back. All of the action in the movie follows from this plot point, but this dynamic isn’t so much said or explained rather than acted out on the screen for us to notice if we choose to. And you might miss it entirely. Hell, Will Smith’s character DID miss it entirely. Smith’s character makes one observation about the lead monster (which he doesn’t even recognize as the leader), and that’s pretty much all that is said. The movie isn’t really about the rivalry or conflict between them… it’s more about Smith’s own emotional conflict concerning his predicament. The monsters are largely treated as part of the setting, rather than part of the conflict even though there is clearly something very interesting going on with them. Hell, we don’t even get to see what the monsters DO every night when they come out. Sounds like they’re having one hell of a party, but all we get to see is Smith curled up in his bathtup with a gun and a dog. WTF is up with that!? I get the feeling that a lot of this movie was cut out, and that this missing footage contained a more interesting story than the one I actually saw.

Now, about the ending. I didn’t like it, but not for the same reason that everyone else is bitching about. It’s different from the original movie and/or book. I don’t have a problem with a more upbeat ending, but I DO have a problem with a movie that makes a major change in the premise of the story just so it can achieve that ending. The ending that I saw didn’t fit with the rest of the movie. It’s as if a different group of writers was brought in to end the movie, and they weren’t given the benefit of even reading the first 2/3rds of the script. Really. I mean, it’s a good ending…but not for THIS movie.

Let’s see what we got here:

+10: End of the world. I love a good apocalypse.
+8: OMGMONSTERSRUN!!
+5: That’s not a dog…. THESE are dogs!!
+5: Best Dog Ever (except for the one in the Hills Have Eyes)
+2: Will Smith is cooler than any of us will ever be.

But, umm…

-10: Either the most interesting parts were cut out, or they were never there.
-10: Where did that ending come from? Really… WTF?!
-5: Monsters not used for full effect. Is this a movie about monsters or not!
-3: I really wanted to see that explosion during the last flashback scene. If they’d shown that, this would be a PLUS 3.

Bottom line: It’s a good movie, but I think the parts that were skipped, cut, or ignored would have made it an even better one. The ending doesn’t ruin the film, but it doesn’t seem to fit and seems to come out of nowhere. You’ll enjoy what you see, but you’ll wish there was more and come away saying… “HUH!?”

————SPOILERS (kinda)———-
Okay, I decided to edit the post and add this. THIS is how I would have ended the movie.
(If you’re reading this on my blog, you’ll have to highlight the text to see it)

Leave the woman and kid out of it completely. Smith remains the “last man on earth”. The conflict with the lead monster escalates into an massive assuault on Smith’s fortress. It ends with Smith and the leader killing each other, but as that happens you notice that the female test subject is reverting back to normal.

This can be an upbeat ending or a depressing one, depending on how you interpret it and what information we drop about Smith’s “cure” earlier in the movie. What if the cure is airborne, just like the virus? If it is, then Smith has saved the world even though he doesn’t live to see it. If it isn’t, then… well… the monsters take over and build a society of their own

Now tell me, what the hell is wrong with THAT ending, eh?


3 Comments

  1. udgang99, January 13, 2008:

    I agree on some points, but totally disagree on others. In my opinion they should have left out the flashback all together !!! I hate it when Hollywood feels like they have to spell everything out … come on, from the intro (the morning newscast) I kinda gathered what had happend! It would have been much, much muuuch better without the flashbacks. AND, the scene with Will and the dog in the tub – that was AWESOME !!! Why the hell did you want to see what was going on outside??? The scene is much stronger when you don’t know what’s going on, but you can hear the screaming, and the terrified face on Will. I would chance that for anything.

    Yes – leave the girl and the boy out of it … wtf were their role in this anyway??? And the ending was a piece of garbage too (haven’t seen the original for years either, and never read the book).

    And your remark about the lack of showtime for the monsters (who I thought was VERY poorly made – the CGI reminded me of The Mummy) … no, it wasn’t a movie about monsters. It was (or should have been MORE) a movie about the last man on Earth. IMO.

  2. udgang99, January 13, 2008:

    “I would chance that for anything.”
    Of course I meant I WOULDN’T change anything !!!

    Oh, and another thing – I thought it was rediculos that the last man on Earth just happens to be the military scienceoffier who was in charge of the virusoutbreak. Talk about coincidence!!!
    Some 20 (?) years ago I saw a french movie about life after armageddon … and the main characters was just a nobody. That’s what I would have prefered to see!!!

  3. DarkIcon, January 13, 2008:

    “Why the hell did you want to see what was going on outside???”

    Because
    1)it sounded cool.
    2)it would have explained a whole lot.

    Don’t get me wrong, the scene with Smith in the tub was great. But if this movie was about Smith being the last man on earth then they spent too much time on the monsters, setting things up that they failed to pay off unless those scenes were cut out. If this movie was about Smith trying to survive in a city full of flesh-eating(?) creatures, then they spent too little. They set up a conflict that drives the entire movie, but we know absolute jack about who/what is on the other side of it. Personally, I’d rather see the second kind of movie, and I think the writers weren’t sure which they were trying to make.

    As for the flashbacks, the ones they showed were interesting but distracting… and they were required for that horrible hack-job of an ending to make any sense at all. The fact that religion was mentioned only twice but becomes a key factor in Smith’s decisions at the end is a sure sign of a last minute addition by writers who had no idea what the rest of the story is about.

    BUT, I’d rather see a movie about HOW Smith became the “last man on earth” instead of what he does once he IS the last man on earth. Not that they should have shown that in this movie… all I said above is that I wanted to see that explosion in the last one. “Setup but no payoff” seems to be a common theme in this film.

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