Up until moments before the movie started, I knew that After Earth was a science fiction movie starring Will Smith and his son Jaden. Then I found out that it was directed and partially written by M Night Shyamalan and that wave of dread that can only be found from thinking you’re about to watch a terrible movie. Sure, Shyamalan has done good films before, but his last several were nothing short of awful and now he’s doing a Will Smith movie, what has science done?
After Earth takes place in a far flung future where the Earth has long stood abandoned. Humanity has spread to other worlds, but we encountered another race that was threatened and unleashed creations called Ursa, blind monsters that sense the pheromones secreted when humans are frightened. The only hope we had was in elite soldiers who mastered the ability to feel no fear called ‘ghosting,’ which was pioneered by Cypher Raige (Will Smith). Now on a simple supply delivery mission, Cypher takes his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) to help motivate him as he has been performing poorly in the military.
Cypher and Kitai’s ship is nearly destroyed in a debris field and they are forced to crash land on a hostile Earth. Cypher is injured in the crash and it’s up to Kitai to find and launch a rescue beacon. A plot that while not very deep, takes advantage of the world it has built to tell an interesting story of a son trying to live up to his father. While we have seen this before, Gary Whitta and whatever role Shyamalan had in also writing managed to put enough interesting elements in, just like Whitta did with The Book of Eli.
I’m not sure if it was intended or not, but After Earth felt like a message trying to tell us that Jaden Smith has grown into a capable actor and followed in the footsteps of his father, and now he should be able to lead projects on his own. Whether or not that was intentional, I was able to buy Jaden Smith as the real lead in this movie, though he definitely needs to grow if he wants to lead a proper action movie that doesn’t focus on a young man becoming a real adult because of battle and hardships.
It is unfortunate that they set up such an interesting world and ecosystem just to tell a fairly basic story, and while this story does end, there is plenty of room for further exploration in this world should there be a desire. I do have to applaud the way complex technology was introduced and barely explained vocally, instead simply watching it in action you divined its uses. Most notably the cutlass, which was what appeared to be a liquid metal device that changed shape into whatever type of bladed weapon or hook that you needed.
Until now, the name M. Night Shyamalan was nothing but box office poison. I’m surprised that anyone gave him a big budget project after the disaster that was The Last Airbender. After Earth proves, at least when working with a talented team, that Shyamalan can deliver a good product. After Earth may not be some ground breaking science fiction movie, but it was a thoroughly entertaining movie that I would recommend to anyone interested in the genre.
In Theaters: May 31, 2013
Runtime: 100 min
Rating: PG-13 for action violence and some disturbing images.
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Official Site: http://www.afterearth.com/