If the words 'Will Smith blockbuster' immediately associate themselves with with 'bullshit' amid the grey squidgy stuff that occupies the hollow spot in your skull, then you're probably going to vaguely disagree with this review. In fact, it's more or less guaranteed, particularly if you've seen it already; so go...I don't know, shoot a fox, or something. If you're aren't of that particular mindset, and just so happen - as I do - to enjoy the odd Will Smith film, then read on.
I am Legend tells the story of Robert Neville, a scientist and soldier who is the lone survivor of a global pandemic that has killed 90% of the world's population. The remaining 10% are divided into two groups; those immune to the virus - a scant 1% - and those who have been turned into horrendous, blood-sucking monsters who roam the night. It's a vaguely interesting concept - but of course it is - and it's executed rather well.
As most of you may or may not know, Will Smith is a funny guy. He does funny, and actually, I find him consistently amusing. So when I heard that he was instructed to 'dial it back' for a film in its entirety, I wasn't exactly what you might call enthused. But magically enough, despite the Fresh Prince's total absence, Smith's charisma shines through - and that's something of a bonus, considering that for a good portion of the movie it's just him and a dog onscreen. There are plenty of amusing moments - both dark and rather light - and some that are even touchingly so. Smith also portrays Neville's degradation as a human being rather well. This isn't of a man discovering an abandoned world; this is a man who has lived with it for three years - the only emotional contact he has is with his dog, and this shows in his eyes, his body language, the way he talks. It's a great, albeit hardly Oscar-worthy performance from the man.
Complementing Smith's performance is the wonderfully haunting cinematography; with DoP Andrew Lesnie masterfully creating a real sense of isolation and loneliness with his steady shots of an abandoned New York, over-grown grass waving gently in the wind. There's some really quite striking imagery here - one that particularly stuck in mind being Neville weaving his way through a stationary traffic jam in pursuit of a deer. It perhaps takes more than its fair share of cues from Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, but then again, that film took cues from the source novel of this one, so it's only fair really.
There are, however, two rather crippling problems, that also happened to be rather inexorably entwined together. This is supposed to be a horror film; and yet there aren't any truly scary pieces of imagery. The infected, for one, are entirely computer generated, and whilst the effects are solid, they simply fail to be scary. Perhaps it's meta-film thinking working its evil - if something isn't real, then it ain't scary - but there have been plenty of CG effects that have been truly terrifying. Perhaps it's the fact that they simply don't look real enough - their skin is too smooth, their movements simply not human, despite the fact that they're meant to be ex-humans. Something along the lines of the creepers in The Descent would've been more than adequate, but unfortunately it's not to be, and it sucks a lot of the tension that director Francis Lawrence has masterfully created beforehand. To add insult to injury, it turns out that Lawrence made this decision himself, and that makes it all the more disappointing.
There's another slightly less annoying problem, is the ending, which seems awfully tacked on and really does pander to the 'give us a happy ending, dammit' demographic that is stupidly microscopic and yet somehow seems to dictate how every Hollywood movie ends, ever. And unless you just so happen to sit rather prettily in that partition of the population, you'll see the exact moment where I think the thing should've ended.
In the end, this is an entertaining movie. It's an action film with a few psychological horror moments, some ropey CGI and a great central performance from Will Smith. You heard me.
Ross' Rating: 7/10