"I Am Pissed"--Reactions to the Blockbuster, "I Am Legend."
"I Am Pissed"--Reactions to the Blockbuster, "I Am Legend."
Perhaps Will Smith gives his best dramatic performance in "I Am Legend." Or maybe he just seemed a better actor because he actually shut the hell up for a change. Regardless, Smith was the right choice for the role and is the only consistently good aspect about this movie.
The monsters--vombies or zampires or whatever--look realistic enough, although their design is rather derivative and uninventive. I had a tough time differentiating them from the monsters in "The Descent" and a couple of other recent movies. Their behavior was also rather familiar and predictable. Overall, the creatures needed more personality, more creativity, in order to separate them from many other similar monsters in recent films. You're not going to see anything like the Pale Man from "Pan's Labyrinth." Nothing daring or original in design.
The flashbacks in the first hour of the film create an interesting frame of reference but don't really provide any character development. You get the standard scene with Smith telling his family to get out of the city and how he must fix the problem, with a monster throwing itself against the car window for a cheap scare. The deaths of his wife and kid don't hit you in the gut like they should, mainly because you know so little about these people. The story would have benefited from more backstory and some engaging characterization.
The death of Smith's dog was supposed to be a sad, tragic moment, with the hero strangling his pet after it had become infected from bites. But the scene didn't seem as plausible as it should have. Smith raised this dog for three years by himself (the dog is seen as a puppy in Smith's arms during a flashback), the canine being his lone friend with whom to communicate. His character supposedly knew that the dog was immune to the airborne version of the virus but not to bites from infected creatures. Yet instead of ending the dog's life in a humane way, in a loving way, he decides to prolong the suffering and choke his best friend. (This choke scene reminded me of the heartless strangulation of a cop at the handcuffed hands of Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men.") If I'm supposed to buy this heartfelt strangulation, then the only way for the scene to truly make sense is if Smith kills himself afterward. Wife and kid dead, everyone else dead or infected, three years of frustration, now strangling your best friend, an innocent lifeform if one ever existed. Scientist or no, a suicide would make more sense than what happens in the film after this tragedy.
But really, the first hour or so of the movie is serviceable. The film keeps your attention, the direction especially strong during dark moments. But everything falls apart when two more human characters enter the mix.
I don't believe this woman and her son would have survived a trip out of their original location and into and around New York. I don't believe they are capable of saving Smith. But whatever. The point is that everything goes downhill when they arrive. Alice Braga gives the worst female supporting role of the year, with a dumb smirk plastered on her face despite any changes in mood from Smith. If anything, one can only assume that a separate virus infected her to render her a walking egg plant human. Her kid is also uninteresting, seemingly well-hinged despite the destruction all around him.
The plot worsens. For at least five minutes, the movie develops an infatuation with "Shrek," showing several glimpses of the computer animated film while Smith recites line after line of it. This allusion was used to illustrate the only film Smith had been able to watch for three years, a sentimental moving picture that helped the man cope through pain and desperation. The problem is that "Shrek" is hardly great art to refer to in your own work. Instead of taking the allusion seriously, I found myself wondering how the movies are connected via movie moguls and companies, imagining a deal between whispering faces to build hype for the recent "Shrek" 3 DVD. Again, I wouldn't focus so much on this point if the movie hadn't shoved the fucking reference down my esophagus, with enough product-placement lubricant to lather a room full of dried-out porno stars.
Soon, the three humans--Smith, his egg plant human lady friend, and her dull, stupid child--are attacked by a final swarm of vombies or zampires or whatever, and excitement builds reasonably. The survivors make their way to Smith's lab, where a former vombie or zampire female appears human on the lab table. Apparently, Smith's earlier experiment to cure the infected bitch finally worked. How coincidental. He snatches the cure and shoves it into the hands of the egg plant woman. That's when he predictably becomes legendary or, rather, "Legend" himself, blowing the vombies or zampires to bits with the most explosive single grenade ever seen in any movie (including every nonstop action movie and war picture).
But wait, I forgot about this very important detail: the butterfly. For a couple of minutes, a solid wall of glass is the only thing that separates the survivors from the goddamn-don't-we-look-like-many-other-monsters-from-recent-films posse. The head vombie or zampire--let's call him Bart, since he's a troublemaker--begins ramming into the glass. Cracks develop in the wall as Bart continues his barrage of rams, the cracked glass forming a shape that resembles a butterfly. Now this is important. Earlier in the film, Smith's daughter referred to a butterfly in an utterly forgettable line. Again this is important to the script of the film, and the main character of the movie knows the screenwriters personally and how epiphanic this moment should be. He glances over to find a tiny butterfly tattoo on the neck of the egg plant woman, and he realizes everything in the script is coming together, almost like a necklace of flowers tied by the blowing wind.
So he becomes "Legend," the butterfly signaling the transformation. Coincidentally, butterflies are natural transformations themselves, which makes this a pretty deep movie.
Alas, the movie doesn't end after the explosion. The egg plant woman and her child make it to a camp of surviving humans, despite the fact that the audience has no reason to believe they're capable or competent travelers--or even legitimate humans for that matter, given their wooden portrayals. The cure is in the right hands at the end of the film, and the movie repeats itself before the credits: Smith's character is "Legend."