Will Smith is back at the multiplexes and he's battling an army of man-made vampires. Sounds like fun? Lets find out.
The film opens in New York in the near future. But it is nothing like tourists and residents know it. Hollywood's favourite city for wreaking havoc upon wears a deserted and overgrown look. Wild animals roam the streets (possibly escapees from the zoos that were abandoned when everybody died or moved away). A deathly calm hangs over what was once one of the liveliest cities in the world. Vehicles lie abandoned. Stores, office parks and even aircraft carriers are deserted.
It all began when a scientist (Emma Thompson) discovered a cure for cancer. Three years later, the mutating virus that was supposed to be the miracle cure decimated the world's population, leaving scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) as the sole survivor in New York City.
He hunts, he works out, he swats golf balls off the wing of a grounded Air Force plane, he broadcasts a message of hope for any other survivors that might be accessing AM frequencies, he cooks meals and he plays with his dog, Sam. When his wristwatch alarm clock alerts him to the arrival of nightfall, he goes home, locks and bolts all the doors and windows and waits out the night during which a class of infected humans prowl the city.
Before too long, Neville is engaging with these beasts. Once to save his dog and another time to avenge her. Along the way, as the sole person immune to every form of the virus, he attempts to find a cure for the man-made strain that has transformed the majority of all the people it didn't kill into rabid creatures of the night.
This film is a remix of a lot of tales and cinematic tropes already familiar to the viewers of blockbuster cinema. Part 28 Days Later, part Cast Away, part post-apocalyptic saga and part monster flick, Legend also reuses the present-intercut-with-flashback storytelling technique so effectively employed by cult television show, Lost.
Neville's solitude is admirably depicted through sedately paced sequences that may disgruntle quite a few Will Smith fans who expect things to go boom with increasing frequency. Make no mistake, things blow up. But this version of Will Smith is not the hyper-energetic go-getter who has little else to do other than kick some ass and take some names. This guy is worn out and losing his grip on reality. He perseveres (in his search for survivors and a cure) and yet he is very close to giving up. He is a mature hero, completely at odds with the character of Mike Larry that made him a silver screen star to be reckoned with in Bad Boys. It is a solid performance by Will Smith, whose age is beginning to show in the lines on his face and the white in his hair.
Abandoned New York is dramatically depicted and it is quite chilling to see what only three years of neglect could do to a megapolis like that. The moments of tension in the dark where we know that something lurks just beyond the pool of light cast by a flashlight are well done. The sudden appearance of the strong and feral creatures that fear little other than sunlight delivers a jolt of scary surprise. The film also owes its visual styling to graphic novels like DMZ and Pride Of Baghdad.
There are a few good examples of letting tension build through silences and an almost documentary illustration of one man's struggle for survival against seemingly insurmountable odds.
But Legend is not without its shortfalls. The creatures of the night, sometimes called The Infected and otherwise known as Dark Seekers, look like an army of Gollums or a slightly more humanoid version of the robots from I, Robot. The cutaways to the past that led to this present don't really offer much by way of back story and seem to have been put into the film solely to break the monotony of watching one man and his dog try and live their lives without any other company. While we feel his pain, it is almost simultaneously impossible to buy Will Smith as a man who suffers to no perceivable end.
Since it all feels familiar, it also feels believable. The message of man messing with nature without fully considering the implications inherent in that messing about is a resonant one. Still, I am not sure how big a market there is for a film, even a Will Smith-starrer, set in a depressing time. Especially now, as people prepare to celebrate the end of another year.