A-listers are often tasked with carrying the movies they star in. They’re the headline draw, after all. But the extent to which Will Smith is asked to carry I Am Legend is extreme even by his standards. Not only is he in virtually every frame of the film, for the majority of the running time he’s also the only human character onscreen at all.
Thankfully, and with the help of a delightful but sadly doomed canine companion, Smith proved more than capable of the task. Released in 2008, I Am Legend raked in almost $600m at the global box office, an impressive vindication of his pulling power after more than a decade at the top of his game.
There are downsides to putting a major star in a movie like this though, and as strong as Smith’s performance is, they arguably hold I Am Legend back from achieving true greatness. Notoriously protective of his image, Smith’s portrayal of a mentally troubled loner in a post-apocalyptic New York feels a bit too smooth around the edges.
This is particularly evident in terms of the film’s ending – or rather endings. The original cut reveals that Smith has accidentally been the villain the whole time, performing gruesome experiments on mutated humans who turn out not to be as animalistic as he assumed.
However, the idea of a morally compromised Smith tested poorly with audiences, so an alternative ending was scrapped together in which he sacrifices himself to save a young mother and her son, while also creating a vaccine with the potential to save humanity. It’s not exactly subtle.
The original ending is now widely available and broadly agreed to be superior, but even that makes some pretty huge logic leaps in the name of fairly mawkish sentimentality – rarely a good look on a post apocalyptic thriller. Ultimately, I Am Legend just lacks the grit of true genre classics like 28 Days Later.
Tune into this week’s episode to hear our full breakdown of the movie, including dangerous dog driving, confusing CGI, Will Smith’s limited Bob Marley repertoire and much more – plus the usual drinking games, listener reactions and sequel pitches.
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Next week, we’ll be continuing our summer of Smith with another genre blockbuster… though one that was slightly less well received in general. Until then, happy listening and remember – dogs die in speeding cars!