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The I Am Legend Sequel Is Making A Massive Mistake, And The Novel Is Its Only Savior

It's the end of the world as we know it ... and it appears that Robert Neville feels fine, after all. 

In an announcement that may have shocked fans of the 2007 post-apocalyptic horror-action movie, "I Am Legend," a sequel is confirmed to be in the works, carrying on where the last film left off. Sort of. Both the last man on earth and the man that directed him — Will Smith and filmmaker Francis Lawrence, that is — have agreed to return to the world ravaged by nocturnal vampire-like beasties. To do so, they'll be skirting over one slight hitch — Neville dying at the end of "I Am Legend," that is.

How can it happen? Well, thanks to a filmic fork in the road, the original film had an alternate ending that saw Neville survive his final confrontation with the Darkseekers and live to fight another day. This ending will now be canon, thereby allowing Smith's hero to head off in a new chapter joined by thriving star Michael B. Jordan. 

Why, though? Sure, on Smith's part, it's easy to see why he'd want to return to one of his most popular performances, but it feels a bit cheap to just discard his character's death in the theatrical cut that millions of people enjoyed. That said, the notion of bringing "I Am Legend" back to theaters isn't a bad one, and there's already a blueprint that, if followed, could enable a sequel to surpass the original movie altogether: namely, go back to the drawing board and adapt Richard Matheson's original book (for real, this time).

I Am Legend 2 would be continuing a brilliant performance (but from a flawed film)

First off, let's lay our cards on the table and acknowledge that Smith's performance in "I Am Legend" was outstanding — so outstanding that it elevated the immensely average movie surrounding it. 

The focus on isolation, and Neville's struggle with survival and sanity, were all brilliant. The rest of the story, though, was a bit of a letdown when the sun went down, and the monsters came out. Those Darkseekers — the vampiric horde hunting and being hunted by Neville in the film — were just not that interesting. They were PlayStation 2-grade zombies that lacked the intensity and the impact to feel like something to be scared of. The idea of returning to that world with those kinds of creatures running amok in it isn't worth getting excited about.

Given these flaws and the fact that they're already rewriting the history of the original film, you can bet the Darkseekers would get a pixelated upgrade after their 16-year hiatus. By acknowledging these likely amendments, why return to any of it in the first place? Instead, the winning trick would be to leave Smith's version of "I Am Legend" behind, and instead build a brand-new story with Michael B. Jordan. 

And to make it work? Do what the 2007 film was too scared to commit to — really, truly go back to the book that inspired it all. 

Don't remake Smith's I Am Legend: adapt the book it failed to bring to life

In a way, "I Am Legend" is to science fiction what "A Star is Born" is to musical romances — that is, every few decades, Hollywood gives it another go. 

The source, in this case, is Richard Matheson's 1954 book, "I Am Legend," which might've featured vampires as its world-ending monsters, but clearly laid the foundation for each of today's various post-apocalyptic zombie franchises. Since the novel debuted, we've had three films mixing various ingredients from the book into their own not-quite-faithful stews: first came 1964's "The Last Man on Earth," followed by Charlton Heston's "The Omega Man," and then Smith's "I Am Legend."

And yet, even after three cinematic attempts and an endless spree of movies and TV shows inspired by it, the book is still tops. While the 2007 "I Am Legend" film does capture the loneliness of the protagonist, Matheson's story is far more unforgiving than any of its adaptations. When the Neville of the book is tortured every night by bands of bloodsuckers calling out his name and banging on his doors, his utter desolation is not just tragic but utterly nightmare-inducing. The starkness of this story doesn't truly get captured in Smith's book, leaving for a very potent concept that could truly be brought to life with Jordan as a new, rebooted Neville, instead of having him co-star with Smith's version. 

Michael B. Jordan could be an all-new legend on his own

Just as Will Smith carried his 2007 take on the story, there's no doubt that Michael B. Jordan could do the same. Over the past few years, he's given one stunning performance after another, dominating the screen whenever he appears in the likes of "Black Panther" and "Creed." 

In "I Am Legend 2," Smith and Jordan would share the screen, but a more proper adaptation of the book — let's call it a reboot — would give Jordan the opportunity to give a tour de force performance on the level of Smith's, along with a new visual canvas and world to explore. It would also allow for an "I Am Legend" film that finally embraces the focus of the book — the horrors of total isolation. Because the near-entirety of Matheson's book, like the first half of Smith's movie, is almost completely about one man experiencing aloneness on a level beyond anyone else in history, surrounded by forces beyond his understanding, grappling for answers that he probably will never find. A new adaptation could ditch the Darkseekers in favor of something more creatively interesting (even if it's not the "vampires" of the book) and lean into a tone a bit closer to "30 Days of Night."  

Meanwhile, if they did want to take this approach but still keep Smith involved, what about featuring him as the big bad?

Make Will Smith the villain, instead of the hero

Another error of Will Smith's "I Am Legend," besides dumbing down the infected outsiders in Neville's world, was skirting over the brilliant and brutal plot point of Neville's old friend, who becomes his enemy — Ben Cortman. The ringleader of the fanged gang becomes Neville's obsession, as the protagonist follows his nightly cries to "Come out, Neville," by spending his days hunting Cortman down and trying to put him to rest. 

So, if we reboot "I Am Legend," here's an idea — pay tribute to the 2007 film by having Smith play Cortman. Besides (1) being a cool new role for Smith, and (2) honoring his part in the beloved story's legacy, a faithful adaptation of the book would also (3) see these new incredible actors separated by brick and mortar for most of the film, always antagonizing one another from afar. And as far as Smith goes, this would be a big change from the sorts of roles we are used to seeing him take on: despite his lengthy career in film and television, how often have we seen him actually embrace a villainous role, rather than a hero or antihero? Taking on a role like this could be enormous for his career, and act as a twisted passing of the torch, as the rivalry between man and vampire evenually leads to a finale that should — truly, finally — mirror the gut-wrenching closer of Matheson's book, for the first time in cinematic history. 

Give us the real I Am Legend ending, you cowards

There's a bittersweet irony in the fact that the upcoming "I Am Legend" sequel is running on an alternate ending from the theatrical one, adapted from a book that ended very differently from the film we got. Not to go too far into spoilers, but if you thought the ending of Will Smith's original fight for survival was bleak, you should give Matheson's book a go. 

The other irony? The entire title of the book, "I Am Legend," only fully makes sense if the book's ending is left intact. The ending is the point of the book. And yet, adaptation after adaptation refuses to give the last man on Earth the cruel, shocking finale that Matheson did, all those decades ago. 

Between now and 2007, we've experienced countless apocalyptic movies and TV shows — from "The Road" to "The Walking Dead" to "The Last of Us" — where we're shown that true horror isn't found in the external monsters, but in the inherent emptiness of life after the end of the world. Audiences have embraced that approach, and Matheson's "I Am Legend," as the godfather of this genre, deserves a faithful adaptation where these very themes are fully brought out and examined. Michael B. Jordan is an actor with the sheer talent to pull audiences through a depressing and emotional solo performance of the likes that Matheson's book requires. Casting Smith as the lead villain, meanwhile, would honor the 2007 film without retreading ground. 

With all that in mind, the time is ripe for the original apocalyptic nightmare from 1954 to finally be brought to theaters in the 21st century, warts intact.