Monday, January 7, 2008

I Am Lucrative

Review: I Am Legend

The 2000’s (or whatever the hell it is we’re deciding to call this decade) have been good years to be a zombie. No longer relegated to the lumbering brain munchers of George Romero’s heyday, the zombie of the new millennium is a fleet-footed nightmare of unbridled rage and agility. The trend that started with Danny Boyle’s indie sensation 28 Days Later and was perpetuated by Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake has now been fully embraced by the mainstream thanks to the presence of sprinting specters in current holiday megahit I Am Legend.

Specifically, Legend’s (serviceably computer generated) ghouls are not the reanimated dead, but rather the victims of a manmade virus that reduces its host to the dirty lovechild of Gollum and a velociraptor. That should sound familiar to fans of 28 Days Later, as the base concept is nearly the same. Likewise, both films share a love of long shots depicting cities in a state of abandonment and dereliction. What keeps I am Legend from becoming an Americanized knockoff is likely the same reason for its stunning financial success: Will Smith.

The onetime Fresh Prince continues to expand his multi-genre dominance into the realm of apocalyptic survivalist horror with his perfectly realized portrayal of Robert Neville, a Marine virologist with genetic immunity to said zombie plague. As the sole uninfected habitant of Manhattan, Neville devotes his days to seeking a cure and his nights to seeking shelter from the sunlight-averse infected. What makes Smith’s performance so dynamic is how he simultaneously captures two sides of the character: a brilliant and dedicated scientist, soldier, and survivor who will not rest until personally undoing the damage humanity has wrought upon itself, and a man experiencing the steady breakdown of his social skills and sanity whose only friends are his dog and the mannequins he chats with at Blockbuster.

Special recognition must be paid to I Am Legend’s innovative storytelling that doles out the backstory of society’s decline through a combination of simulated news broadcasts, embedded clues visible as Neville goes through his daily routine, and flashbacks to the moment that began his trials. All serve the purpose of making the film a richer, more interactive experience than it would have been if served only by a prologue or a screenplay that went directly from points A to B.

In the long view, the somewhat derivative charms of I Am Legend might not stand up over time besides the likes of apocalyptic classics like Planet of the Apes, Mad Max, or (there it is again) 28 Days Later, but it is an admirable character study, a stark thriller, and another notable stop on Will Smith’s road to cementing himself as the most popular and reliable movie star in decades.

Grade: B

1 comment:

Kakashi said...

Your comments about Will Smith reminded me of this: