After taking a bit of time off from the movies to deal with convention stuff, catching up on some anime and watching more American Idol, I jumped back into the movie watching game Saturday night with I Am Legend. Not wanting a romantic comedy and hoping for something different after last watching The Invasion I believe, I settled in to watch something new that had intrigued me from the trailers but was distanced enough from the hype. Will Smith has done a decent variety of films over the years and a late holiday 2007 release wasn't exactly endearing it to be a big action flick so I thought it'd work out well.
Little did I know. I Am Legend turned out to be far better than I thought it would be while still dealing in an area that I wanted to enjoy. Running similar threads to recent viewings such as the Invasion and even Resident Evil, I Am Legend takes us about three years into the future after the majority of mankind has been killed off due to a cancer cure run wild. Some 6.5 billion people are dead and about a five hundred million survivors are now something called Hemocytes by the sole survivor in New York City. Robert Neville, a military lieutenant commander who insists on staying at ground zero to fix it, has been going out by day through his routine to eke out a living while spending the rest of his time researching a cure. The first half of the film is pretty much him living in this ruined city where nature is reclaiming a lot of it. Grass in the streets, a family of lions hunting and so forth. Along with his dog Sam, Neville has things going well enough but doesn't seem to be making much progress.
In between these moments we get some very small but well done key flashback scenes that flesh out what happened in the days before the virus went wrong and how New York City was quarantined. These help to humanize Neville even more since what we see of him is a creature of routine living in a world of his own making. He's doing what he has to in order to maintain a semblance of sanity but it's starting to crack after so long. The massive cityscape all around him and the small bits of personality that he puts into it, such as how he frequents the same video store, provides for two very different things but ties it together very well. As the film progresses and we start to see more of the Hemocytes, which are only called that in the subtitles, the culture of them and their name of "Darkseekers" becomes clearer and more interesting. At first they feel like boogeymen ala Silent Hill and Resident Evil but then they get touched upon a bit more as Neville experiments on the latest one he captures after venturing into one of their nests.
I Am Legend isn't exactly a thinking man's science fiction film, especially after watching something like Sunshine, but it is very strong even with a predictable third act. The first segment of the film with Neville moving about the city is very engaging since we get his narration at times combined with a lot of quiet scenes. These just feel unusual in today's filmmaking where everything is big and loud. Some of it doesn't feel like it meshes well, a little too CG, such as when the Mustang tools around the city, but for the most part they've done an amazing job of making this city look like it does. They didn't go over the top with it and it feels restrained in a lot of ways but it has a certain kind of presence and power to it.
I Am Legend drew me in quickly and kept my attention throughout. I was actually fearing it once I realized that it was essentially a zombie/undead flick since I was already jittery after a bad day. Every little sudden sound and the Darkseeker material just made me jump even more, especially with the sounds they used for them. It just creeped me out in a way I didn't expect which made it all the more enjoyable in a perverted way. There are weak moments to be sure in the film, but I Am Legend is a disc that I'll definitely pull out again to revisit in order to see what I missed the first time and how tightly put together it really is.