I Am Legend 2’s Timeline & Retcons Make Will Smith’s Return Even Better

The news that I Am Legend 2 will retcon I Am Legend’s divisive ending is great for Will Smith’s return to the post-apocalyptic sci-fi franchise. I Am Legend’s ending is one of the more controversial book changes in the history of cinematic adaptations. Based on the Richard Matheson novel of the same name, 2007’s I Am Legend begins as a relatively faithful retelling of the book’s story. Both the novel and its movie adaptation focus on Dr. Robert Neville, a lone survivor who stalks through an abandoned city years after a mysterious disease turned the human population into vampiric monsters dubbed Darkseekers.

However, I Am Legend’s adaptation diverges radically from the novel in its closing act. The ending of I Am Legend’s movie adaptation, which I Am Legend 2 will retcon, sees Neville sacrifice himself by blowing up a building filled with Darkseekers, all so a fellow human survivor can take an experimental cure for the disease to a secret human commune. The novel, in contrast, ends with Neville learning that he is a mythical monster among the Darkseekers, who are not the thoughtless killing machines that he envisioned, but rather thinking, feeling beings. Neville’s discovery gives the novel its title, as he realizes he is a terrifying legend to creatures who live in fear of him.

I Am Legend 2’s Timeline Can Give Will Smith A Very Different Role

The news that I Am Legend 2 is happening and will star Smith necessitated a retcon of I Am Legend’s explosive, much-criticized ending. Although the Will Smith Oscars slap hurt I Am Legend 2, the sequel remains in production, and, according to I Am Legend 2 producer Akiva Goldsman, the movie will “trace back to the original Matheson book, and the alternate ending as opposed to the released ending in the original film.” This means that Smith can take on a different role as an older survivor, and the sequel can be a totally different beast from its predecessor thanks to its fidelity to the novel’s original ending.

I Am Legend 2 using the alternate ending of I Am Legend is more interesting for Smith’s character, as it allows viewers to see a new side of Neville. In the original movie version of I Am Legend, Neville is a gruff survivalist who somewhat struggles with isolation, but is ultimately a morally uncomplicated hero. However, the Darkseekers in I Am Legend 2 will likely be recognizably sentient creatures with social structures, family bonds, and near-human intelligence, which means Neville will need to reconcile his previous slaughter of their kind with what he now knows about them.

I Am Legend 2’s Timeline Smartly Distances It From The Original Movie

While Goldsman does not specify exactly how far into the future I Am Legend 2 is set, he does imply that a lot of time will pass between the two movies. Per Goldsman, the sequel’s action will start “a few decades later than the first,” confirming that it has been a long time since Neville was the Darkseeker-killing antihero of the original movie. This will allow I Am Legend 2 to distance itself from the original movie, where gung-ho killings completely misread the meaning of the I Am Legend title by cutting Neville’s all-important realization from the story’s ending.

I Am Legend 2’s Ending Retcon Is More Interesting For Smith’s Neville

In the I Am Legend movie, Smith’s Neville is little more than a standard-issue action hero. He has a few compelling moments that explore the character’s loneliness, such as the memorable sequence when he tries to hold a conversation with an inanimate mannequin. However, from his merciless killing of the Darkseekers to his eventual explosive self-sacrifice, Neville’s status as a man of science does not stop him from solving problems with violence. He does not see the monsters that he hunts as anything more than a potential source of a cure for the disease that has ravaged mankind, and I Am Legend’s theatrical ending reaffirms his viewpoint.

Rather than bringing back Robert Neville via a clone in I Am Legend 2 – a twist that would keep the original movie’s misjudged ending in the franchise canon – the sequel is better off retconning Neville’s sacrifice entirely. Learning that the Darkseekers are sentient just like him would be a humbling, fascinating moment for the character, and it would be much more interesting to see Smith’s older version of Neville navigate this discovery than it would be to stage a sequel that sees his clone continue to indiscriminately kill scary monsters. As such, I Am Legend 2’s ending retcon will make the I Am Legend franchise a stronger, more interesting series.