Having been released over two weeks ago you could probably argue that this review of Will Smith’s latest film – After Earth – isn’t particularly timely. Though of course I hadn’t even started the blog then, let alone seen the film, so we’ll just have to make do with it being late. Having said that if we consider this as a review for the film’s DVD release then actually it’s bloody timely, so I guess it is all just perspective.
But then isn’t so much of film critiquery just perspective? For example, I’m personally a big fan of Will Smith, and I have enjoyed many of his previous films while finding him a charismatic and watchable screen presence. He may be no Clark Gable – whoever that is – but he’s a decent actor, which is what makes his role in After Earth such a disappointment.
Smith plays General Cypher Raige, a legendary Ranger who’s job it is to protect human colony Nova Prime from a ferocious, blind and fear-smelling creature known as the Ursa, and it is this predator that that the rest of the film is based around. There’s a whole back story to the Ursa that is hurriedly explained in the opening five minutes that I couldn’t recall at all, so I’ll let Wikipedia explain, like I needed it to for me:
“The Ranger Corps, a peacekeeping organization commanded by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), comes into conflict with the S’krell, alien creatures who intended to conquer Nova Prime. Their secret weapons are the Ursas, large, blind predatory creatures that hunt by “sensing” fear.”
Fortunately, Cypher Raige is able to suppress his emotions to such an extent that he is invisible to the Ursas, a technique known as ‘Ghosting’ or ‘doing a Kristen Stewart’.
Not so fortunately, following an encounter with an asteroid field the ship transporting Cypher and his son Kitai (played by real life son Jaden Smith) crash lands on the long deserted Earth – leaving those two ( the only survivors) and an escaped Ursa that they had held captive to contend with the evolved and deadly animals of the planet.
Two broken legs means that young Kitai Raige has to reach the tail of their ship over 100km away and retrieve the beacon that will summon help. The crux of the film, therefore, is that Kitai Raige must overcome his fears and become more like his old man. Essentially he needs to stop being such a pussy – something his dad has to consistently remind him of.
What follows is a series of inexplicable contrivances that require our main protagonist to do various things at various times – reach geothermal hot spots every evening to avoid the global freeze over that occurs every night, take oxygen inhalers every so often to avoid dying of something and, of course, learning to Ghost to avoid being skewered by the Ursa.
It is this ‘Ghosting’ that is at once the central crux of the film as well as its main weakness, as it leaves Will Smith with a job of having to make us empathise with a character that shows no human emotion even to his own son, in turn making it difficult to invest fully in the already flimsy story.
It is therefore down to Jaden Smith to provide the emotional draw and he does the best he can with what he’s got to work with. There is the occasional nice moment between the two of them that threatens to add a bit of depth, although there is always a fairly ridiculous set piece just around the corner to jolt the film back to reality.
In the end what we have is a fairly innocuous and bland sci-fi action which, as previously mentioned, is a shame considering the potential star power M. Night Shyamalan had at his disposal with Will Smith. Even so there is probably just about enough in there to keep you mildly diverted for the duration. Y’know, once the DVD is out.