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I Am Legend
Two Hearts

"Two Thirds of a Good Movie"

Written by Steven Walker

I feel so ripped off.  I was loving I Am Legend.  Truly loving it.  I was caught up in the story, engaged by a terrific performance from Will Smith, and swept away by the visual sense of director Francis Lawrence, who I thought was finally making good on the promise of the criminally underrated Constantine.

Then, two thirds into the film, the nature of the plot completely changes and oh my god does it suck.  Everything that was great about the film dies instantly in that moment and the ending is terrible.  It was like having great sex, but then you fall off the bed just before you climax and impale your thigh on your hand crafted Lord of the Rings letter opener.

Now I’m going into serious spoiler territory, so if you want to preserve the full disappointing experience then turn away now.

I completely believed that Will Smith was the last man on Earth.  From the opening scene of him hunting dear in deserted New York to the well placed mannequins to his awesome home security system.  The empty, overgrown city was made more unnerving by the fact that I had visited New York just a week before I saw this film and many of the locations Will Smith frequents were places I had just been to.  I believed his loneliness, I believed his guilt, and I was afraid of the monsters.

The movie sets up the monsters as mindless boogiemen.   The first time we hear them screaming outside while Smith shivers in his bathtub was an amazing moment.  The first time we see them huddled in the dark sewers like a little cult was truly chilling.

Their terror factor is considerably lessened when we see them in the light because they are rather dodgy CGI.  I’m usually all for CG but this time it was a bad decision.  These monsters are supposed to be mutated humans, but they are not in-human enough to justify the use of CG.  A pro make-up artist could have made something much more realistic and frightening out of prosthetics. It also would have saved tons of post work because I know how hard it is to create hordes of CG monsters.  However, I was willing to overlook this short coming because the sequences were so well staged that the quality of the effects did not matter. 

Then the plot starts to get really interesting.  We see the monsters do things that clearly indicate they are not mindless after all.  They keep mutated dogs as pets.  They demonstrate sympathy for each other and they set a trap for Will Smith.  It was clear to me that the movie was going to be about Smith discovering that these monsters are still intelligent, and hopefully explore all the complex moral implications of that.  This was a story I wanted to see.  I was hooked.  I was invested.  Goddammit, I cried like a little girl when that dog died.  

I have since done research on the original script and novel and know that this is exactly how the story was supposed to play out.  Will Smith’s character discovered that these creatures thought of him as their boogieman, giving the title of I Am Legend a beautiful and ironic double meaning.

However, right at the moment when Will Smith should be captured by these creatures and learns their true nature, the film completely jumps the shark by having two other humans show up and rescue him.  We are then treated to a completely different movie that is not even a fraction as interesting.  It becomes about Smith trying to regain some humanity so he can interact with this new woman and her child.  The hints at the monsters’ intelligence are dropped.  The fact that they set a very clever trap for him is ignored. 

What’s worse is that this new lady is a religious nut who starts ranting about faith and destiny and God’s will…which made me want to vomit.  I have nothing against these themes per se, but in this case they come out of nowhere with no sub-textual buildup or purpose.  Before she mentions God nearly an hour and a half into the show, there has not been one single religious reference, inference, metaphor or anything.  Is really feels like they cut the third act out of a different script and just pasted it onto this one.

Then to add insult to injury, the climax of the film is so bone-jarringly stupid that I can’t understand how a crew of thinking humans put it together with straight faces.  First there is a bit involving a butterfly tattoo that is such a brain-dead dues ex machina that not even M. Night Shyamalan would film it.

Finally, Will Smith’s character sacrifices himself in a way that is so mind-numbing I thought maybe I just hallucinated it.  For the filmmakers I have this question…why in the Holy Hell didn’t Smith just throw that grenade through the hole in the glass and then climb behind the blast shield with the others?  There was absolutely NO REASON for him to stay outside and die like that.  It was not a real action taken by a real character, it was aggressively bad screenwriting.  Half the people in the audience I saw the film with were questioning that on the way out of the theater.  If common citizens who do not critically analyze movies can still detect your plot holes, then you have failed.                 

 

 

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