"I Am Legend" had a very unique opportunity to become an intimate big budget picture. The fact that Will Smith and his dog are essentially the only two characters in this movie made for a rather interesting experience throughout the majority of the film. Unfortunately, the movie does not ultimately end in a satisfactory way, leaving me to ponder alternate ways things could have been wrapped up.
Being unfamiliar with the source material and the two films prior to this one that attempted to adapt it, I was able to come in with essentially zero preconceived notions about what it was supposed to be. Yet, it does make me wonder how different the original novel was, since the last 30-40 minutes or so seem to be a completely different movie.
The movie begins in a televised interview announcing that cancer has been cured using a modified virus that only attacks cancer cells. This is the only set-up, save for a few minutes of flashbacks, for the remainder of the film. Immediately we are thrown into the world of Robert Neville (Will Smith) who spends his days hunting for food and searching for survivors of the mutated virus that killed the majority of the population and turned the rest into zombie-vampires.
Will Smith carries this movie as really only he can. His performance is relatively nuanced in comparison to many of his other films and the fact that he is alone for such a huge portion of the movie speaks volumes to his capabilities as an actor. The interactions with his dog, Sam, show a desperation for contact that would not be nearly as evident in a lesser actor. Also, one particularly moving exchange happens between Neville and a mannequin that truly shows where he is emotionally. What this provides is a welcome departure from most big budget actioners which primarily focus on gigantic effects sequences and have little in the way of emotional development.
Unfortunately "I Am Legend" turns into exactly the type of movie that it seemed to be rebelling against in the last quarter. About 3/4 the way through, a major turning point happens in the movie and it becomes almost like the writers had no idea where to go from there, but realized that the movie needed to end. What follows is a few ridiculous conveniences that just seemed to undermine the psychological intensity of the majority of the movie. This coupled with an intense zombie/vampire showdown creates a complete lack of focus in an otherwise focused movie.
The resolution seems to be obtained too easily and much too quickly.
The zombie/vampires are also much too plain. Yes, they are dangerous, but they seemingly exist as just mindless challengers for Neville except when they are inexplicably able to set up elaborate traps. The movie certainly would have benefited from an exploration as to what the people infected with the virus have become, beyond these mindless zombie/vampires.
"I Am Legend" suffers from a few ailments that hold it back from being a really good movie, which, unless someone goes back and reshoots the last half-hour, will not change. As it stands, it's absolutely an engaging way to spend two hours if only to see Will Smith continue to improve on his movie star status and acting capabilities.