So, is it third time lucky for Richard Matheson’s acclaimed 1954 novel? Anyone who’s read I Am Legend will already know that cinema has not been kind to his masterwork. Vincent Price hammed it up in 1964’s The Last Man On Earth, while Chuck Heston was watchable in 1971’s The Omega Man. Yet neither flick managed to capture the novel’s finely tuned suspense, or its depiction of one man’s psychological nightmare after a virus has turned the world’s population into vampires. Alas, Francis Lawrence’s (Constantine) version is little improvement.
To its credit, it does at least try. The superior first half sees Will Smith give a convincing, angsty performance as Robert Neville, a scientist trying to find a cure for the hordes of Infected swarming the Earth. His only companions are a gaggle of mannequins and a dog, who not only gives the Fresh Prince someone to talk to, but also helps him hunt the iffy CGI deer now roaming the deserted streets of Manhattan.
As Neville goes about the day-to-day business of survival in this new New York, Andrew (Lord Of The Rings) Lesnie’s dazzling cinematography overshadows his every move. Bathed in a champagne glow, the Big Apple has rarely looked more eerily beautiful. While many of the effects are achieved through CGI, real location filming in sealed-off sections of New York lend the film a believable air.
Sadly, this only lasts until we catch our first glimpses of the Infected. Moving with that daft super-speed that can only come from a hard drive and about as scary as a pack of boy scouts after too many M&Ms, the virus-carrying creatures are nowhere near as threatening as they should be. They’re also unintentionally amusing, head-butting everything in sight like demented football hooligans. Factor in the syrupy moralising (via Bob Marley, of all things) of the film’s final scenes and I Am Legend emerges a valiant effort, annoyingly undermined by a misplaced faith in its computerised bad guys and a script that stutters halfway through. Read the book instead.