A crash landing leaves a father & son stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after events forced humanity’s escape. With his father injured, the boy must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help.
What would a summer blockbuster film season be without at least one film that tells the story of humanity leaving Earth due to some calamity that ruins the planet? Those of you who like this hackneyed plot line got lucky this year since “AFTER EARTH” is the second one to grace screens across the country in the past 6 weeks (Tom Cruise’ “OBLIVION” was the first). And much like Tom’s slow as molasses misfire, “AFTER EARTH” also fails to hit it’s intended target but it isn’t quite as bad as you’ve been led to believe.
In this story, humanity has decimated the earth and was forced to leave 1000 years earlier. The place where they ended up is a planet called Nova Prime and was good there for awhile, but then the aliens came and a war was begun. The aliens had a trump card in the form of creatures known as the Ursa and although the Ursa’s are essentially blind they have the power to sense/smell fear and since they’re pretty big and ugly they just ran around smelling everybody and lancing them with their pincers with reckless abandon. But there came a savior! And his name was Cypher Raige (Will Smith), who has the power to essentially “turn off” his fear at will and if the Ursa can’t smell you then they can’t kill you so Cypher is essentially invisible to the marauding creatures. The technique is called “Ghosting” and he uses it to pretty much single handedly take care of the Ursa although the war continues on.
Early on in the film we learn that Cypher is going one last training mission before retiring to spend time with his wife Faia (Sophie Okenedo) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) who’s just failed his exam to become a ranger (Rangers are what qualify for soldiers in the future) and is really worried about how to break the news to his taciturn father. But he does and Cypher decides (With some prodding from Faia) to take his son with him on what will be his last mission as a ranger in order to bond with his son. But midway through the trip their starship gets caught in a meteor storm that ends up splitting the ship in two halves. Both halves land on the nearest planet which just happens to be…..Earth.
Once it’s established that everyone on board is dead except for Cypher & Kitai the film turns into a quest for a homing beacon that just happens to be located on the other half of the ship and both of Cypher’s legs are broken so it’s up to Kitai to traverse the mean terrain of the earth on his own and retrieve/activate that beacon to signal for help or the both of them are gonna die. Oh…there just happened to be an Ursa on board the ship that was being brought along for training and it was released in the crash so it’s lurking about, sniffing for some scaredy cat human to munch down on as well. And since Cypher can’t help his son it’s safe to say that young Kitai has his work cut out for him.
From this point on “AFTER EARTH” becomes more of a travelogue than anything else as earth doesn’t really look all too shabby 1000 years after we left. The grass is thick & green, the plants & trees are lush and the sky is blue…what’s to be scared of? Well there’s a horde of angry baboons looking to start some trouble and a giant eagle that’s looking around for some grub for it’s babies that causes a bit of trouble for Kitai (Although it turns out to be the hero of the film in the end) but that’s about it (Besides that annoying Ursa that’s shambling about). Before Kitai begins his trek he’s given a stern warning from his father stating that in the 1000 years since man has left, all life has evolved “To kill man” but I had to wonder why would any creature evolve expressly to kill something that hasn’t been seen on the planet in over 1000 years? Another key plot element I had to wonder about is the fact that for some godforsaken reason the earth gets really really cold at night, I’m talking freezing to death cold and Kitai has to make it to designated hot spots at night in order to survive. But if it gets so friggin’ cold at night then why aren’t any of the trees & plants dead in the morning? Each and every blade of grass is not only intact but awfully healthy looking too.
It’s lapses in logic like this that help to make “AFTER EARTH” a really, really dumb movie. And it doesn’t need to be said that the end of the film is a foregone conclusion either. Do you really think the kid isn’t gonna make it to the beacon & signal for help? Do you really think that he’s not gonna figure out how to “Ghost” just like his dad does at precisely the right moment? Well if you do then you might like this film a lot more than I did (You also probably haven’t seen a movie in a decade or so but that’s another discussion for another time). The script is chock a block full of flashbacks to a time where Kitai’s older sister Senshi (Zoe Kravitz) was alive & eventually sacrifices her life to protect young Kitai against an Ursa that’s invaded their home. Kitai still carries guilt over his sister’s death and feels like his dad resents him for it (Although Cypher never really acknowledges that to be true), so the poor kid just wants to impress his dad in the worst possible way.
I liked Jaden Smith in the “KARATE KID” redux of a few years ago. I thought he had a fresh face & an appealing manner that would eventually translate to bigger and better roles. But in this film all he’s asked to do is furl his brow & pout as if he didn’t get enough ice cream for dessert. It doesn’t help that most of his line readings are so rushed it’s hard to decipher what the hell he’s saying (Especially in the beginning of the film). As his dad Cypher (Is it just me or is Cypher Raige just one silly ass sounding name?) Will Smith turns off everything that has made him the number one box office draw of the last 10 years or so. He’s a taciturn, charmless, emotionless character that engenders absolutely no affection from the audience whatsoever. I can understand that the character was written to be that way but if that’s the case then why not cast someone else? It doesn’t suit the persona that Smith has oh so carefully cultivated in his films over the past decade and I disliked the character immensely.
But since the script for “AFTER EARTH” was written by Smith & Gary Whitta based on a story by Smith AND produced by Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett AND her brother Caleeb then he knew exactly what he what he was doing. The whole thing is just a vanity piece designed to put Jaden in the spotlight and carry a film on his own and in that aspect it fails completely. Jaden is indeed a talented young man with a bright future ahead of him but he’s not ready to carry a film on his own just yet. He doesn’t have his father’s swagger just yet & he definitely doesn’t have his dad’s sense of humor…not just yet anyway. This isn’t to say he can’t act, like I said earlier he was really good in the “KARATE KID” remake and he needs to find material that’s more suited to his particular talents, not the other way around.
“AFTER EARTH” was directed by the one and only M. Night Shyamalan, whose salad days are far behind him. I think it’s safe to say that he’s a “Director for hire’ here and I’m not saying that to slur him or his career, he’s been to the top of the mountain and he’s well on the way back down that same mountain but he’s not a director sans talent. The film looks great and the performances are what they’re supposed to be as per the script so I can’t blame him for the utter blandness of the film. He does what he was hired to do which was to bring it all together and he does that well enough. Does he have another “SIXTH SENSE” or “SIGNS” inside of him? at this point it’s doubtful but hope springs eternal and he’s a gazillionaire (Or he should be anyway) so I’m not gonna shed any tears for him.
I’ll bet you’re reading this and saying “The Black Saint REALLY hates this movie” aren’t ya? Well while I didn’t like it much I can’t say it’s as bad as other reviews will lead you to believe. It’s just an extremely ordinary film that does absolutely nothing to differentiate itself from the herd of summer movies headed our way. In actuality I can’t help but think it’s more of an ABC Afternoon Special with a gigantic budget, it certainly feels that way. It’s kinda hard to like a movie in which the most interesting character is a giant CGI created eagle that’s onscreen for about 12 minutes total but that’s what “AFTER EARTH” ended up being for me. It’s a good looking, slow moving, nearly action free vanity project for a kid with rich parents that doesn’t hit the mark. That being said, it’s a well made good looking, slow moving, nearly action free vanity project for a kid with rich parents that doesn’t hit the mark. I guess that’s gotta count for something huh?
“AFTER EARTH” – 1 1/2 shrouds out of 5
After Earth (2013)