I Am Will Smith

Many actors in Hollywood aspire to be both “serious” actors and action stars. They want to blow stuff up and win awards. Some are successful: Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Nicolas Cage (remember the 90s). But nobody does it better than Will Smith. With two Oscar nominations and some of the biggest opening weekends in history to his credit before the age of 40, he does everything well. He makes it look easy. He is Steve McQueen.

legend1.jpgHe is the reason why I Am Legend, though a significantly flawed movie, is worth seeing. His Dr. Robert Neville is the last healthy survivor on an abandoned Manhattan three years after a plague has annihilated civilization. The plague has turned some of its victims into vicious killers. They cannot go into the light and hunt the city in darkness. Robert spends his days in a routine: hunt, exercise, play with his dog. At midday he waits at a specific point named in a radio signal he’s been broadcasting, hoping someone is out there who will hear it. In the evening, he does research in his lab, hoping to develop a cure using the immunity of his own blood, before locking himself in at sundown. He is desperately, methodically hanging on to any hope. And even though it never pays off, he makes no move to escape Manhattan. We’re not sure how much he knows about the outside world. We’re not sure how close he is to going crazy.

Watching this movie in the theater, it was obvious how attached the audience became to Robert. Smith is effortlessly charismatic even with only a dog to play off of, and the flashbacks that let us in on what his life was like before the plague are devestating. When Robert is in dangeror, worse for him, when he believes his dog to be in dangerwhispers and cries of concern rippled through the audience. We want so badly for him to come through this, somehow.

Too bad, then, that the depiction of the monsters humans have become was so disappointing. A particularly effective sequence of Robert moving through the dark with only the light on his gun to help him is creepy and tense, but when the monsters came fully into view, I only saw CGI. There was nothing in them to make them seem like they were once human. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate fear, to see what humanity has become? They are like aliens. Too uniform. Too animal. Would it be so bad to use people in makeup and prosthetics? Zombie movies have done it for decades with great effect. Why does the availability of CGI make its use mandatory?

The final act of the film, while reasonably emotionally satisfying, isn’t convincing as a set of events that could actually occur in the world the film has set up for us. I won’t give away what happens, but trust that an important detail we thought to be truth is violated with no explanation offered, and that more questions are raised than answered.

I’m guessing that most people who see this movie will like it to some degree, because it is truly The Will Smith Show, and there is nothing not to like about his performance. Robert is a great character and the questions raised about him and his role in the world are truly interesting. Whether you come away with mixed feelings as I did will depend on how forgiving you are of special effects that think they’re better than they are and plot holes that get swept under the rug.


1 Response to “I Am Will Smith”

  1. 1 patty January 11, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    will smith’s body was cgi! holy shit!

    no, really. wow.

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