Robert Neville (Will Smith, “Independence Day”) wakes up each morning, exercises with his dog and then rents movies. A day like any other. The only difference is that Neville is alone, supposedly the last man alive on earth – that is, until the night comes.

Brian Merlos
(Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Brian Merlos
Party in the city where the heat is on. (Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

That’s where things get interesting. During the night, the “dark seekers” come out to feed. Dark seekers are mutated victims of a virus, once thought to be a cure for cancer, which eventually wiped out almost the entire world population.

At first glance, “I Am Legend” seems to be yet another post-apocalyptic film – human race is wiped out by a deadly virus, last man on earth attempts to salvage the human race – but surprisingly, it isn’t. Rather than relying on special effects to drive the story, the film wisely relies on Neville and his human plight. That’s not to say the special effects aren’t something to marvel at: a completely desolate New York City, overgrown with weeds and teeming with wild animals, is quite a sight.

What sets “I Am Legend” apart is the humanistic storyline. His family is dead, along with everyone else, and Neville only has his dog left to confide in. Oh yeah, and the dark seekers.

Each day, Neville works furiously to find a cure for the virus. Why a cure if he’s the only man left on Earth? The movie wisely doesn’t try to answer all of the questions it poses, since most of them really don’t have logical answers, and, most of these questions won’t even occur to you until after the movie anyway, which is probably a good thing.

Like most movies of its kind, the actual revealing of the creatures is a letdown. Much of the film’s intensity relies on brief glimpses of these dark seekers in pitch black settings. Once the creatures are finally revealed to be some sort of variation on a video game zombie, the film loses some of its tension.

Smith offers up a new kind of action hero, one who isn’t unrealistically macho – though that’s not to say it still isn’t the same old Will Smith the world has come to know and love. He’s all alone and just barely hanging on to his sanity. It’s strange how when watching “Legend” Will Smith seems to be the only actor capable of fitting into this role. It’s a character that Will Smith was born to play, especially considering how most of his co-stars are traditionally mere springboards for his witty one-liners anyway. In “I Am Legend,” co-stars cutting into the “Will Smith Show” are almost entirely absent.

You’ll find yourself holding your breath, peeking out from behind your fingers and, all the while, caring about what happens to poor Robert Neville and his dog. These are mighty accomplishments considering the fact that “I Am Legend” was probably intended to be another typical Will Smith vehicle. But perhaps this film could be considered the ultimate Will Smith vehicle.

Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 stars

I Am Legend

At Quality 16 and Showcase

Warner Bros.

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