The most common complaint I recall reading or hearing about when I Am Legend came to theaters was that it did not stick to its source material, Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel of the same name. It’s a good thing I don’t read much.
Will Smith is Robert Neville, a scientist in the armed forces, who is the lone survivor in New York City as a virus has spread that turns humans in to blood thirsty vampire/zombie creatures (Darkseekers). The virus came about as a result of an astonishing cure for cancer. Neville seems immune to the virus and is frantically at work in his lab to find a cure.
For much of the movie we spend time with Neville and his dog Sam as they navigate in a post-apocalyptic New York City. Wild animals are found roaming the streets. It’s never clear why lions and antelope are racing through the streets of New York city after a few years of a terrible virus wiping out man kind. Neville has his routines and we follow him as he hunts for food, looks for useful items from all the abandoned homes and makes notes of where he’s been. The first thirty minutes of the film are not unlike those in Cast Away where Tom Hanks is on the island all by himself. And, much like Hanks’ performance in Cast Away, Smith pulls off a tough task by being the lone presence on the screen for large amounts of time.
The suspense of I Am Legend is solid until we get too much of a long look at the Darkseekers. The computer animated human mutants feel like animations when the camera focuses for too long on any one of them. This is an example of where it would have likely been better to take J.J. Abrams’ approach to monsters and do your best to hide the details as much as possible. It not only adds to the suspense (at least in this case) but also covers up some shoddy animated creatures.
I don’t want to go into spoilers, but I will say that one surprising complaint I heard about this film is the overt religious overtones. There is no doubt, they are there and maybe caused me to think a bit deeper about some of the themes. At its core, I Am Legend is an action thriller film but overcomes some poor special effects and potentially baffling plot lines with a solid lead by Will Smith, a quieter than normal first act, and a story that asks viewers to think a bit more than the usual summer blockbuster flick.