‘After Earth’ Review
Seventeen summers ago, Will Smith gave us the catch phrase "welcome to Earth" and then punched an alien in the face. This time he's the invading alien (kinda) and his new line "this is Earth" is much more doom and gloom than swagger. An international icon, father and potentially the next great crazy celebrity, Will Smith is finally ready to pass the baton to his son Jaden.
But it isn't a baton he's using in 'After Earth' (an original sci-fi film based on a story of Smith's own creation) but a C-40 Cutlass – a doohickey kinda like Darth Maul's lightsaber, which springs out different blades depending on what you need. Actually, we never quite know how the Cutlass in 'After Earth' works, but it is one of a number of really nifty gizmos that populates the half-baked mythos of this film.
It's the future, and Earth has been ravaged by man. While the weather was destroying us, we somehow managed to build gigantic ships with faster-than-light capability (an action rather eloquently called “traveling”). We got our asses to another planet called Nova Prime. But there's a problem. Just as we were building awesome egg-shell-looking skyscrapers with no doors (but plenty of vaginal imagery) we discovered that the planet had some indigenous creatures who don't take too kindly to settlers. Looking a lot like the arachnids from 'Starship Troopers,' the Ursas are gross, hairy, pincer-havin' beasts that can only see you if you are afraid. If you are able to somehow tamp down your fear (an activity known as “ghosting”) the Ursas will never know you are there and you can slice them open in slow-motion and look like a total badass.
That's what Cypher Raige (seriously, that's Will Smith's character's name) does. He's a Ranger and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) may be a fast runner, but he doesn't quite have the bucked-up attitude to join the corps.
With father/son tensions high, it's decided some bonding time is in order so Kitai joins Cypher on a routine trip to another planet. They bring a contained Ursa to help new Rangers train, and I think we all remember what Anton Chekhov said about seeing a fear-smelling killer insect in the first act.
An unexpected asteroid storm sends the ship (which looks really cool, by the way) into a mayday emergency “travel.” They crash land on Earth and next thing you know everyone is dead except Cypher and Kitai. To phone home they need a gewgaw that fell off the ship X amount of kilometers away. Cypher's legs are broken so Kitai has to man-up and try and survive in this evil version of Pandora on the journey to fire the green flares.
Yes, I just made references to 'Avatar' and 'The Rock' in the same sentence, but it's not like 'After Earth' is original or anything. It is, however, good fun. All the technology (from “smart fabric” suits to a floppy 3D holographic Kindle) looks terrific, as do the crazy animals left on Angry Earth. The movie ends with young Jaden Smith grabbing his masculinity with both hands and shooting off an enormous stream of white energy. Make of that what you will.
It's easy to snark on 'After Earth.' It's dumb, Jaden Smith can't act and some genius decided it would be a good idea to have the characters speak in an indiscernible accent. (Normally I'd say the director, but it is pretty clear that M. Night Shyamalan is a hired gun here. After so many disasters in a row, he appears to be on a tight producer's leash.) Yet with all these criticisms, I can't lie and say I didn't enjoy this asinine movie. It's thrilling and adventuresome. I saw 'Krull' when I was 9 and thought it was the greatest thing ever. If you have a young person in your life (or are in tune with your inner child) you may find yourself having an enjoyable time.
'After Earth' opens in theaters on May 31.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.