Review by Louise Keller:
Danger is real but fear is a choice, says Will Smith’s military commander in M. Night Shyamalan’s follow up to his last flop, The Last Airbender. Shyamalan’s films have become progressively worse since his brilliant 1999 hit The Sixth Sense, and sadly, After Earth reinforces the negative pattern. Everything disappoints, starting with the screenplay that Shyamalan co-wrote and which relies on the depiction of an apocalyptic reality in which nature is the villain. Nothing wrong with that, but like his 2008 flop The Happening, in which Mark Wahlberg talks to a potplant to negate a potential attack of poisonous toxins, there is nothing to anchor the premise or engage its audience.
After Earth is pretty much a two-hander, arguably a vanity project for Will Smith and 15 year old son Jaden, the latter taking centre stage with limited expressions, snivelling his way through most of the film. Even the charismatic Will, given the restraints of his robotic character, cannot save his son – or the film. It’s a sci-fi thriller, a father-son relationship film, a coming of age story and creature feature all rolled into one confusing package.
It takes some suspension of disbelief to accept all the plot points as protagonist Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) leaves his injured father Cypher Raige (Will Smith) to journey 100km from the crashed airship wreck through hazardous forests, waterfalls and barren lands to find and dispatch the emergency beacon. Do we care about any of it?
There are some positives. The landscape is striking and the scene in which Kitai runs up a mountain whose steep slopes are smouldering with fire is visually arresting. James Newton Howard’s music has some wonderful descriptive passages with running quavers and surprising lightness of touch, although during the film’s climactic confrontation between Kitai and the monstrous ursa (a digital blob of ungainly viciousness), the score screeches unbearably at the top of the decibel meter.
But the finger pointing must be directed at Shyamalan, whose lack of creativity and freshness leaves a heaviness and stale flavour to the entire film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban
The story is credited to Will Smith, and it is a very clever one. Here is a sci-fi movie where the filmmakers don’t have to create a fantastic future world: it’s Earth, 1,000 years after humans have departed. It looks pretty good now, with its rivers, giant waterfalls, wild animals and a large population of birds – some of them apparently carnivores. We even get to see a large pod of whales.
The only thing that seems to spoil this paradise is the air, which isn’t as rich in oxygen as we’d like (despite all those forests).
Anyway, mankind has gone and set up on a safe, healthy and fully controlled man-made planet. The only reason the action takes place on Earth is by accident; the accidental crash landing of a spacecraft carrying General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith). They are the only survivors and the emergency beacon they need to summon help is stuck in the broken-off tail of the craft, 100 miles from the mangled main body.
As Cypher lies helpless with two broken legs, it is up to the wanna-be Ranger, 13 year old Kitai, to make the difficult journey to retrieve the beacon, across tough terrain filled with predators.
Less sci-fi than it sounds, After Earth is a father-son relationship within an adventure story, with a YouTube mentality: everything is captured on camera, even on this human-less Earth, and played on digital screens where Cypher can monitor his son’s progress, communicate with him (until Kitai hits a black spot) in a way that is quite familiar to us.
These underwhelming elements only serve to highlight the film’s flimsy premise and simplistic screenplay. As much as the filmmakers try to inject some layers, with young Kitai carrying demons of guilt over the killing of his sister, this just slides off the film’s back. Less exciting or engaging than an old fashioned adventure and filled with wooden dialogue a father wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) use with his 13 year old son, After Earth is stodgy and rather meaningless.