Will Smith is a far better actor that most people give him credit for. Sure, he’s the Fresh Prince, and yes he’s the go-to guy for aliens attacking America movies, but he’s also a charismatic, compelling actor that has proven time and again that he can carry a movie. This time, he carries the entire movie pretty much by himself. The story of I Am Legend is based on a book by Richard Matheson. In the movie, Smith is a scientist fighting a virus that has all but wiped out the human race. He lives with his dog Sam, and spends each day hunting and gathering food, watching movies he borrows from the video store, and testing potential cures for the virus.
The opening scenes showing a desolate and deserted New York City were reminiscent of the opening scenes of an abandoned London in 28 Days Later, one of my favorite movies. Seeing places like Times Square and the UN building so utterly devoid of human life is extremely unsettling. The break in the lonely atmosphere is Robert Neville (Will Smith) rocketing through the empty streets in the Mustang Shelby GT500. The car roars through the streets of Manhattan and echoes back, showing you just how empty it truly is.
Neville searches for food by hunting the wild deer that roam the streets of the city, having to avoid the lions that are also hunting for their dinner. At night, he boards up his home with steel shutters, blocking out the unbelievable horrors outside. The creatures that have developed from the infection are harmed by sunlight. They are violent and will eat anything they can find, but are unable to attack during daylight hours. After watching The Descent, I didn’t think creatures could be scarier than the cave dwellers in that movie. I was wrong. The “dark seekers” as they’re once referred to in the film, make worse (meaning creepier) noises than the Descent cave things and are more violent, faster, and all around more terrifying. (Oddly enough, the creature vocals were done by Mike Patton, vocalist from Faith No More).
I had expected this movie to have a great story and great acting. I didn’t realize it would be so suspenseful. First of all, I’ve never seen Will Smith look truly scared before. He’s been nervous in movies, like when he and Jeff Goldblum are flying the alien spacecraft, or when Tommy Lee Jones gets eaten by an enormous bug-alien, but not really, truly scared. A scene early in the movie where he has to go into darkness shows him terrified of what might happen. The audience is right there with him. For the first time ever, I think the entire theater (which had a capacity of over 2,000) was on the edge of their seats. They actually screamed when the creatures were revealed. There are also dog creatures, and they are even scarier than the zombie dogs in Resident Evil.
The backstory of the movie is shown through a series of flashbacks, sort of like Signs. We learn why the virus was made, how it spread, and what happened in the first few hours after they found out it was spreading. The story isn’t all that unlike any other infection and evacuation story, except that this time the survivor has the ability and the knowledge to create a cure to reverse it all.
This was absolutely one of the best movies of the year, and possibly Will Smith’s greatest performance so far. He is charismatic, charming, and funny as usual, but he also shows a much softer side – one that shows him talking to himself and singing Bob Marley songs to the dog to get through the loneliness of the days. There are also the obligatory explosions, jump-out-of-your-seat scary moments, and scary as all hell creatures. Everything in this movie, right down to the beautifully orchestrated ending, was fantastic. It’s worth seeing on the big screen for the beautiful cinematography, and the really well-done sound design on top of the great story.
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