Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a brilliant scientist, but even he could not contain the terrible virus that was unstoppable, incurable, and, worst of all, manmade. Somehow immune, Neville is now the last human survivor in what is left of New York City and maybe the world. But he is not alone. He is surrounded by the Infected – victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path. For three years, Neville has spent his days scavenging for food and supplies and faithfully sending out radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. All the while, the Infected lurk in the shadows, watching Neville’s every move, waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Perhaps mankind’s last, best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the virus using his own immune blood. But his blood is also what The Infected hunt, and Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time.
This fourth screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1950s book opens in 2006 with scientist Emma Thompson being interviewed about a cure for cancer with a 100% success rate. Three years later, however, and Will Smith is driving an adapted hunting-vehicle through the ruined and empty streets of New York, trying to shoot a deer wandering up Fifth Avenue. And there’s no sign of Irish Christmas shoppers trying to met the most from the dollar-euro exchange rate, either. Without a doubt, this film is worth the admission price for the sight of Smith all alone in the city that never sleeps – well, the place that never slept before the virus, anyway. Broadway abandoned to decay, Central Park zoo’s animals roaming unchained, towering skyscrapers empty and silent, abandoned yellow cabs left rusting and haphazard, buses permanently halted in the middle of Madison Avenue.
As the last man left alive on earth, Smith forages with his dog during daylight – the only safe time away from the Infected, roaming the dead city in search of something to cling on to. Food is running out and so is his time. In his apartment fortress, he tries to stay sane working in his laboratory for a possible cure for the virus – while all around in the dark city the howls of an army of the infected pierce the gloom. This is indeed scary stuff. Alone in his tower, he recalls the last days of normal life and his decision to send his family to the country while he stayed behind to find a cure.
Huddled in a tin bath, with the streets outside echoing to the howls of the numberless monsters that used to be the human race, the conveniently virus-immune Smith dreams of the last days of New York, and his decision to send his family away in order to stay on and research a cure. After the initial ‘wow!’ factor of New York silent and deserted, the film does cruise to a meander with Smith’s daily routine the core of story. He arrays window dummies in his local video store where he makes regular trips; he eats breakfast in a deli where recorded news flashes are his only company; and then wanders under the tumbling down Brooklyn Bridge while sending out his daily message to any survivors out there.
As you might expect, help does eventually arrive in the form of a nurse and a 10-year old kid – and thus begins the inevitable showdown with those creatures of the night. I Am Legend does have a few nice touches up it’s sleeve, but the ending does seem too long and drawn out after such a dazzling opening. Smith does a fair imitation of Tom Hanks in Castaway – a movie he used as inspiration – but the lack of fellow humans does dilute the impact of the story somewhat. This is a film where New York, as it has so many times in the past, takes the best role. The images are indelible and lasting. If you’ve been there, you’ll gasp in amazement – if not, you’ll want to go before the plague ever arrives.