An attractive, confident doctor (Emma Thompson) in a television interview coyly agrees with the interviewer's question that, yes, they have finally found a cure for cancer, this time by manipulating the measles virus. Then the scene switches abruptly to a shot of Manhattan's waterfront area: derelict, with quarantine notices, abandoned vehicles and weeds sprouting up through the concrete... and not a person in sight. This is the sobering start of I Am Legend, the third adaptation of the Richard Matheson's post-apocalyptic novel (older readers may remember the earlier versions starring Vincent Price and Charlton Heston respectively).
Will Smith is a man alone in New York after disaster has overtaken mankind. Smith plays Dr Robert Neville, a military scientist still searching for an antidote for the virus that has wiped out most of the world and turned many of the survivors into dehumanised, hairless and aggressive pale-skinned primates with a taste for blood. His only companion for most of the film is Samantha, his alsatian bitch and accomplice, if one discounts the laboratory rats in his cellar and the skulking "Darkseekers" who are almost never seen by day. New York is ground zero where the effects of the virus first broke out, and flashbacks throughout the film give us glimpses of the tragedy and horror that have driven mankind to the abyss. The mutated humans are largely faceless, but one seems to have become their leader and to have retained some animal cunning, acting as Smith's shadow throughout the film. Smith himself gives a surprisingly well-nuanced performance as he goes through the roles of a researcher, husband, father and avenger, haunted by the flashbacks from the past and occasionally showing his great loneliness.
From a cinematic point of view, some reviewers have criticised the mutant element, and at times they do appear to be simply a large army of faceless zombie-vampires whose main role is to be destroyed in several different ways, a fact not helped by the CGI method used to render them which reminded me at a couple of points of hurriedly-drawn creatures made for the "Alien" series of films. By the same token, however, this makes their demise almost bloodless despite the carnage, which depending on your point of view may be a discreet protection of the viewer or simply desensitisation. Children may be upset by one or two of the scenes, and two scenes in particular are very tense. Apart from the killing of the mutants, most of violence in the film is implied rather than graphically portrayed. Overall this is a film that you can possibly take the family to see, bearing the above points in mind.
It would be an exaggeration to call this an evangelical picture, but nevertheless underlying themes of faith and redemption are never far from the surface. As Smith drives through the city hunting deer (wildlife having gained a free hand, including escaped zoo animals), he passes an abandoned personnel carrier bearing the poster "God still loves us.... but do we still love him?" Later we see him in a flashback praying with his wife and child, a scene that I think might have been much harder to include in a British-made film. Then he encounters a stranger who claims to have been instructed by God to follow a certain course of action, but Neville, in a moment of self-doubt and disappointment, rages against the existence of God or the possibility of any hope for mankind's continued existence. Without giving too much away, the film also ends with something of a redemption story.
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