There have been some classic final lines: ‘frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’, ‘nobody’s perfect’, and (heavy French accent) ‘with pleasure’. Add to them: ‘can I work with mom now?’ The line, from AFTER EARTH, is entirely justified. For 100 minutes Kitai (Jaden Smith) has his dad, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) riding on him. ‘You’re coming with me on a training mission’, ‘you’ve got to run 100 km to get that homing beacon,’ ‘take a knee!’ No wonder Kitai wants to hide under his mother’s apron strings.
The raison d’être of AFTER EARTH is that Will Smith, formerly Mr 4th July, then Mr Memorial Day and with this effort, Mr ‘week-after-Memorial-Day, please-don’t-hurt-my-box-office’ is anointing his teenage son as the next bankable star. The problem is, in so doing, he has lost his sense of humour. So we have Will Smith in a latex suit worrying about mass expansion. Damn that middle aged spread.
Some exposition is required. The film is set in the 22nd Century after a mass evacuation of Earth. Humans live on the planet of Nova Prime where they have to contend with creatures that can smell their fear. Cypher became the first human who could function completely without fear – yes, he’s totally arrogant. He can sneak up on the creature and kill it. That sounds like settlers massacring Native Americans to me. (Smith hasn’t just lost his sense of humour, but an appreciation of irony.)
The threat of the bug-like creatures appears to have been contained, though one took the life of Kitai’s sister (Zoe Kravitz). Kitai, who hid in a dome and saw his sister die, is really messed up. ‘He needs a father,’ Cypher’s wife (Sophie Okenedo) tells him. No, he needs a shrink.
So having failed his Ranger exam – Yogi Bear’ll have to wait another year – Kitai flies with his dad and assorted expendable crew members towards another planet, only they hit an asteroid storm. Would you believe it but they somehow crash land on Earth as if it was a turning off the interstate.
Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors. Cypher has broken his leg. So Kitai has to go out into the inhospitable polluted planet to find a beacon to call for help, whilst his dad has some kind of view of him. (How is it possible? Don’t bother to ask.)
The director is M. Night Shyamalan and at the very least you expect some big game-changing twist. Alas, there is none. Kitai falls foul of a leech (darn those Hollywood agents), a spider (curse those franchises), some monkeys (desist with that RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sequel, coming 2014) and some big cats before a bird of prey (stand in for the American eagle anyone) comes to Kitai’s rescue. Ultimately, Kitai has to face his fear of the big beetle that has conveniently been transported to Earth to mess up the eco system even more.
Does he do so? This is a summer blockbuster – what do you think. Does the film make a point about mankind ruining the Earth? What do you think – it’s a summer blockbuster, not the sequel to AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. Rarely have I seen a film so basic, so lacking in formal ambition. It’s a two character movie; one of those is a Cypher.
AFTER EARTH earned $27 million in its opening weekend – not good, when you compare it to the much lower budget THE PURGE, which opened a week later. It has the whiff of a vanity project gone sour. It is moderately watchable – you wait for that darn twist until the last minute – but instantly forgettable. Worse, you think to yourself that Will Smith turned down DJANGO UNCHAINED, a film that could have reinvented him. Stop worrying about mass expansion, Will, get better advisors.