Out of curiosity I went to look up Will Smith's filmography, and realized that since Michael Bay's Bad Boys in 1995, he had averaged just one movie a year, most of them being box office successes save for blips like Wild Wild West, and in films spanning a wide genre from biopics to romantic comedy to action and drama. Today his name alone on the marquee can open a movie, and I Am Legend is probably a true test of that drawing power, because for the most parts, his Robert Neville is the last man on Earth.
This film is the third to have been produced for the big screen, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Matheson. I haven't watched The Omega Man which starred Charlton Heston, but from what I've read, it's a somewhat wide departure from the source material. The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, was entertaining (available at the Internet Archive) and given that we're looking at it in retrospect, was told in a rather straightforward and simple manner. Will Smith's vehicle, will no doubt be updated with plenty of special effects, and getting those road closures for down town Manhattan is by no means an easy feat in itself.
I've no idea why the tagline had to say "the last man on earth is not alone", and in the poster had Smith slinging a mean rifle over a shoulder, with a german shepherd at his heel. With man's best friend as company, how can any man be alone? Technically yes, but then his pet dog provides an avenue to keep one's sanity - any interaction that provides feedback of sorts, doesn't put you in isolation ala Tom Hanks in Castaway. And being stuck in a big city in Manhattan does have its perks, in terms of food, shelter and of course, entertainment.
Of late, monster movies with the likes of the recent 28 Days/Weeks series, and in 30 Days of Night, point to an interesting observation - that we like our monsters smart, vicious and fast. In The Last Man on Earth, Vincent Price had to do battle with plodding creatures of low IQ, which formed the basis of George A Romero's walking undead. Here, the creatures bring forth a few same-old concepts, from being created by a virus (Resident Evil series, 28 Days/Weeks probably taken a leaf from I Am Legend the book), filled them with crazed rage, move fast and are incredibly smart - they adapt and learn. However they fail to interest in creature designs, having look like leftovers from The Mummy franchise.
Action sequences are few and far between, which ringed back to an earlier Smith movie I, Robot, but credit has got to go to I Am Legend for deftly crafting moments of intense fear and dreadful anticipation, like the sequence in the warehouse. But everything else was a chip off something else, like The Hulk's raging doggies, and with Robert Neville (Smith) taking a leaf out of Sylvester Stallone's The Specialist in tactical defending, which I liked to believe his character had learned from one of his routine DVD rentals. There's even one more reference that I will choose not to quote, as it's too close to revealing how the ending turned out to be, which I felt was a little of a cop out, as the filmmakers probably had a problem in deciding how best to end this, in an honourable way befitting an A-List Hollywood star.
The backstory to Neville's predicament, as an update to the original movie's explanation on the situation, brings forth a warning to those wanting to play god. Sometimes the intentions are good, but like all potential miracle cures, these have to be tested thoroughly rather than be excited over them, or worse, having those with side effects covered up. Don't expect too much of those flashbacks, like The Last Man on Earth's, they're kept short and succinct, and most of it is unfortunately in the trailer. An added plus into this version, is the lack of a dreadful need to repeat its stuff to remind audiences of Neville's routine of eat-play-send signals-find cure-find food etc, and juxtaposed time quite nicely so that it's not simply just a dawn-to-dusk day-in-the-life-of account.
Directed by Francis Lawrence who brought us the big screen adaptation of Constantine, I Am Legend continues to serve as a staple for that year end big budgeted blockbuster, and in most counts, I Am Legend works, plainly because of Will Smith's charisma, and that german shepherd's company.