There have been rumblings about an impending second installment in the I Am Legend (would-be) franchise being made, ever since the original 2007 film grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide in theaters. Warner Bros. has finally struck a deal to do just that, with Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman - who co-wrote and produced the original Legend adaptation - now onboard to collaborate on the project (in some form).
Here's where things get a bit tricky. The second I Am Legend flick is (as Deadline puts it) "not being called a prequel," and is being fashioned so as to allow Will Smith to reprise his role as scientist Robert Neville (if the A-lister so chooses).
Quick history lesson: some three years ago, Smith reportedly conceived an idea for an I Am Legend prequel, the setup for which would have seen the Robert Neville character team up with pockets of survivors in the aftermath of an apocalyptic man-made virus - resulting in him "interacting, bonding, and ultimately failing to save them," thus setting the stage for the events of I Am Legend.
However, that idea was scrapped in favor of a more direct sequel. The script for I Am Legend 2 was to be written by then-unknown D.B. Weiss (now, known as the co-creator of HBO's Game of Thrones TV series) and would have somehow allowed for Smith to reprise his role as Mr. Neville, despite his (spoiler?) having been seemingly blown up by a grenade during the climax of the first film.
Jump to the present and Warner Bros. has instead recruited up-and-comer Arash Amel (The Expatriate) to pen the initial draft for the new I Am Legend movie. There's no word yet on whether or not the project is still being fashioned as a sequel - though, it could be in a state of flux similar to the studio's 300 spin-off, a film which was long assumed to be a prequel/midquel, but has recently been labeled a sequel instead.
Assuming the second installment of I Am Legend is not simply a prequel-in-disguise, there are two ways for a Smith-starring sequel to make sense (sort of):
- Robert Neville is featured heavily in flashbacks, in a manner similar to how I Am Legend chronicles the chaotic quarantine of Manhattan (via its protagonist's memories).
- Amel's screenplay accepts I Am Legend's alternate ending (which partly restores the thematic value of Richard Matheson's source material, while also allowing Robert Neville to live) as being "canon" - and ignores the much-decried climax to the film adaptation's theatrical cut.
Obviously, the easier (and, frankly, more interesting) route would be to develop a prequel along the lines of what Smith originally had in mind, rather than attempting to awkwardly navigate around the conclusion to the theatrically-released version of I Am Legend. For the time being, though, it seems that the former may NOT be what Warner Bros. has in mind. Make of that what you will.
We will keep you posted on the status of the new I Am Legend installment (be it prequel or sequel) as the story develops.