I Am Legend Review
Make no mistake; I Am Legend is a Hollywood Blockbuster. A budget in excess of $150m, special effects both large and small and starring the most bankable movie star in the world today this is a film that is out to impress. And impress it does, but not in the departments you might be expecting, Anyone going into this looking for Independence Day 2 are going to be sorely disappointed, as this may just be the most intimate special effects blockbuster ever to come out of Hollywood.
Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a government scientist/virologist who is the last remaining human on earth after a disease wipes out half of the world's population and turns the other half into bloodthirsty mutants. He spends his days driving round the streets of a deserted New York hunting deer and other animals that now call the Big Apple home, and working in his lab trying to find the cause of the infection and hopefully a cure. At night it’s a different story, as that’s when the infected come out into the open and roam the streets and Neville holes himself up in his deserted brownstone and hopes to make it through until dawn.
This is a film of two halves. The half that takes place in daylight is, quite simply, brilliant. New York, devoid of any living thing with trees and grass growing between the pavement cracks, has never looked more beautiful. As Neville races his sports car along the deserted streets or hits golf balls through Times Square you will be in awe of how seamless the combination of live action and CGI can be. It is a totally realistic alternate world that looks at once beautiful but scary, familiar yet alien and Will Smith inhabits it with a performance that should finally silence his critics. More than a film about zombies or mutants, this is a film about loneliness and isolation. It may be our dream to roam the streets of a deserted city, but how long before that dream turns to a nightmare? With only his loyal dog for company, itself giving an Oscar worthy performance, Smith tries to live as normal a life as possible whilst all the time knowing that it could be his fate to live out the rest of his life lonely and alone. A scene in a video store where he tries to get one of the shop mannequins, that he has set up around town, to talk to him is truly heartbreaking and makes you think that if this wasn’t a horror/SF movie, Smith could have been in line for an Oscar.
When the sun goes down on this awesome spectacle, however, the whole thing falls apart! The second half of the film concerns itself with the infected and their attempts to get to Neville and this is where we hit problems. Danny Boyle had the right idea when he showed us zombies in 28 Days Later, he employed ex-athletes and slapped on a bit of make up. They looked real, they were fast, and boy were they scary!! For I Am Legend the computer geeks were handed the task of creating the monsters and that may be the biggest mistake anyone involved in this film has ever made. The zombies here move unnaturally fast, have a grey hue that make them stand out against everything around them and, if we are being honest, look like they have been transplanted into the film from a bad computer game. Our first sighting of them isn’t too bad, in a warehouse, daylight outside and they stand huddled in a corner and a scene where two zombie dogs wait for the sun to go down before they can get through a doorway to attack Neville is genuinely gut wrenching. The rest of the time they appear at night and as the sun disappears so does any believability that the film has built up.
Sure, the rest of the film has its flaws. Why has Neville got a fully functioning lab in his basement? How come all the power supplies in the city are all working? Where is he finding all his fresh vegetables? But Smith, by way of a masterful performance, helps us get round those questions and care more about the human drama unfolding than the scientific one.
It’s a real shame because this had the potential to be one of the defining Sci-Fi movies of our age, instead it will be remembered for Will Smith’s great performance and as the film that proved that computers aren’t ready to take over from real film makers just yet.