I Am Legend is a good-looking blockbuster that succeeds due to some good thrills and a strong performance from Smith, but flirts dangerously with conventionality in its final stages.
Will Smith gives a magnetic performance as the lone survivor in New York City. He has a dog, which enables him to talk out loud without seeming mad (well, that's actually up for contention, as he's also gathered up a load of shop manikins and talks to them too). In his spare time, he's a scientist working on a cure to reverse the terrible plague that has turned the world's population into computer-generated vampires.
The early scenes of Smith racing around a deserted Manhattan in a sports car are the film's major draw card. We've got Times Square covered with grass, herds of deer trotting along Fifth Avenue, and any man-made sounds of modern civilization have been replaced by creepy birdsong. It really is very impressive. Flashbacks reveal the mass panic as the evacuation takes place, ending with the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge in what is touted as the most expensive scene in movie history.
And then, as the sun goes down, Smith barricades his windows and holds his gun tight as unnatural howling and bloodthirsty screams echo outside. This is terrifying, but by the time we actually see the vampires, the effect is somewhat diminished. Quite simply, they look like fake, rushed special effects.
It's the concept, however, which provides the real chills. This may be a blockbuster, but it's one that has been doused in a deep sense of melancholy. Less concerned with metaphor, and more interested in the struggles of a single living man surrounded by a collapsed civilization, I Am Legend succeeds on an intimate scale.
It's too bad, then, that two other human survivors show up 2/3rds through. Their weak acting and bland characterization take away the impact that the film has thus far established and the story grinds to a halt, ending with a fairly conventional climax which is not as inventive as one might hope.