I Am Legend is really an interesting film. It opens with a bang, offering up a glimpse of Manhattan over-run with weeds and decrepit vehicles. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist that has survived a viral outbreak that has exterminated 90% of the population. The majority of those left behind are flesh-hungry, wraith-like creatures of the night. This is one of the critics' largest complaints with the film, that the CGI is less than impressive with the beasties. I agree, but I don't think it obscures the film in the theater. Five years from now we'll likely laugh at these creations, but in the short-term they weren't a major distraction for me.
They do, however, represent a missed opportunity. I think Francis Lawrence (rumored to be developing Palahniuk's novel Survivor for the big screen) did a nice job in introducing us to the creatures, creating high tension as Neville follows his beloved dog into a pitch-black office building. Lawrence decides to keep the creatures in shadow, and we merely see their pale, emaciated backs as they prey on something (the wet, smacking sounds of their eating nicely accents the scene). I think he could have kept this up far longer into the film. When they mount an all-out assault on Neville's armored home later in the film, we've lost most of our fear of them. They move too mechanically--their facial gestures don't scare us.
Again, sometimes less is more. Leave 'em in the shadows, for God's sake, and let us scare ourselves a while longer.
The film is worth the price of admission, though. Smith can really act. If you've ever seen the episode of The Fresh Prince when he gives Carlton drugs and Carlton almost overdoses, you know what I mean (and I'm being serious, folks). He carries the film admirably and breaks your heart in one scene in particular. If you've looked at the film, you know it's hard to handle when he seeks out some companionship in the deserted bookstore.
I love the pacing of the first hour of the film. It's fascinating to plumb the depths of human motivation, and we get a great case study here. Smith's Neville has a real sense of purpose--he works on his research, hunts, cares for his animal and tries daily to contact others. But just beneath the surface we see another side of him. He's losing it, and it's the scenes that show his manic side that are most honest.
I don't dislike the conclusion as much as many that have reviewed the film. The religious and faith-based overtones aren't so immense that they spoil the film for me, and I'm alright with the happy ending. It's interesting to see that you can have a great film like Children of Men (blends a happy and sad conclusion nicely) that critics love, then you get the shocking ending of The Mist (not loved by critics) and then you have the luke-warm reception here. While Children is clearly the best film, it would be interesting to see what folks thought if this one had a darker third act.
Final analysis: 'B'
We get There Will Be Blood this weekend. With a title like that and Daniel Day Lewis in the lead, how can you go wrong?