Regarding the special effects it is amazing how they were able to transform Manhattan Island population 1.5 million to population of 1 and a dog. By itself these special effects were worth the ticket price. If I had bothered to check I would not have thought director Francis Lawrence had the technical chops to pull this off, considering I’ve only seen portions of Constantine and I wasn’t very impressed by the visual results. Yet here he skilfully weaves the special effects seamlessly into the fabric of New York’s landscape. Aside from the clearly fake lions (yes, lions) the special effects rarely took a misstep, minding one large one.
Even the sound effects were great taking the automobile and pedestrian noisy streets of New York and turning them over to the birds. Where ever Will Smith, as Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville, went there was always the sound of birds and insects. A very eerie and disconcerting effect where the visual evidence of our eyes with Smith’s location in one of the greatest metropolises on the face of the planet, yet with the sounds of grassy fields and sunny days.
I also can’t emphasis how well Abby the Dog, playing Samantha the Dog, interacts with Will Smith and vice versa. It is a credit to the dog and her trainers as well as Will Smith who throws himself whole heartedly into his interactions with a dog.
Yet it inevitably falls on Will Smith to anchor the film as the lonely, guilty and possibly insane Robert Neville, the US Army doctor who tried to stop the ominously named Krippen Virus from devastating Manhattan (Note: people with cartoonishly evil last names, should not have things named after them). Instead 90% of everyone on Earth was killed by the virus with the majority of the remaining 10% turning into practically mindless “infected” who fed on the preciously few unaffected by the virus, leaving Will Smith by himself in New York continuing his work for a cure.
Movies like I Am Legend like Castaway rely on showing us how the protagonists cope with their isolation. For I Am Legend, as well as Castaway, the movie's best part is seeing Will Smith on his daily routine from watching reruns of Good Morning America to waiting at noon on a wharf waiting for someone to show up, or trying to get fresh meat.
In turn the action is surprisingly intelligent. The deer in the building scene is particularly tense and well plotted giving the audience a good idea of the limitations of the “infected” and what Will Smith can do about them. And even the third act’s set pieces work.
My two biggest misgivings are the “infected,” and the ending. For the former the decision was made to use computer generated monsters and they come across as computer generated monsters. I wouldn’t say they’re badly done but they’re patently unreal and it just takes me out of the movie. I think the filmmaker might have crossed the uncanny valley effect with me in that regard.
My second misgiving is the third act which devolved into a handful of action set-pieces that, in themselves are well done, is finished with an ending that is textbook Hollywood copout. I didn’t read the book by the same name that I Am Legend is based on but from what I’ve gleamed from other reviews and Wikipedia I am perfectly cognizant that the book had a kick ass ending. I Am Legend the film didn’t kick nearly as much ass with its ending.
As an action film I Am Legend does an above average job. As a character study it works because of Will Smith. But in light of what I know about the book, the film shies away from taking that step towards near greatness with its copout ending. Even then I should give the filmmakers credit, the ending works for the film that was made and I should state I was supremely entertained and I have to give the filmmakers credit for that.
3 ½ Stars out of 4.