Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, After Earth is set a thousand years into the future, after humanity has abandoned Earth and resettled on the planet Nova Prime, where an elite peacekeeping organization known as the Ranger Corps has been formed to protect humanity. Their job is to patrol other planets and provide security against aliens who are bent on killing humans. On a routine mission, the Ranger Corps ship is destroyed in an asteroid field and crashes into Earth killing everyone on board except, General Cypher Raige and his son Kitai, played by father/son duo Will and Jaden Smith.
Cypher is critically injured in the crash, and his son is forced to find the tail end of the ship, which carries the emergency beacon. Kitai faces a perilous journey because the Earth’s animals have all evolved to kill humans.
Over the past few years, Shyamalan has struggled to recapture the early success he enjoyed on movies such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. In After Earth he demonstrates some of his former glory. Shyamalan has layered in plenty of tense and surprising moments and I found myself jumping and hiding my face countless times in the movie. However, he is at his strongest when he focuses on relationships. Although this movie has plenty of action, it’s essentially a drama that centers on the relationship of a father and his son.
Will and Jaden Smith have the advantage of built-in chemistry and believability, and I especially enjoyed Jaden in this role. His emotional range is convincing, and I was able to feel his fear and stress as he takes his journey. I am a huge Will Smith fan and I like him best when he is the charming, funny guy. He is not that guy in this movie. Smith plays General Raige as a fierce and fearless leader who has a difficult time allowing himself to feel because it could lead to death. He treats his son like one of his soldiers, and this is the reason why the two have a hard time relating. As strong as the two leads were in this film, there was still an emotional gap missing from the film and for that reason it only gets a B.
After Earth is the latest in a number of post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi films that show the Earth as an uninhabitable and hostile place that has forced humans to take to space. The true core of this film isn’t the action, it is the relationship between the father and son duo of Will and Jaden Smith. The chemistry between the two is palpable and it is even more impressive how connected they stay despite the fact that they don’t share that much actual screen time together.
Director M. Night Shyamalan does a masterful job of building the tension and anticipation of danger as Jaden Smith’s Kitai is alone against all of the dangers of a wild and primitive planet. Kitai tries to put on a brave face, but you are always able to appreciate his vulnerability and it is easy to feel his father’s fear for him. I had a few issues with the film, the biggest being that Kitai has a distracting accent that comes and goes. Also, the scenery and the physical sets are lush and interesting, but the digital effects and creature design are average. Flaws aside, this is a very enjoyable movie and it should restore a little of the luster to Shyamalan’s career. B