Director: M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, David Denman.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Synopsis: One thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind’s new home. Legendary general Cypher Raige (Will Smith) returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13 year-old son, Kitai (Jaden Smith). When an asteroid storm damages their craft, they crash-land on a now unfamiliar and dangerous Earth.
Will Smith is the eleventh most bankable movie screen actor of all time. That’s pretty impressive stuff in the years that have whisked past since his debut in 1993’s MADE IN AMERICA, a film that saw him star opposite the likes of a post-Oscar winning Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson in a rather forgettable performance. Twenty years on, after many a blockbuster and indeed very little in the way of flops, AFTER EARTH arrives in the UK following a rather lacklustre domestic run, becoming the first Smith vehicle to be widely panned since 1999’s WILD WILD WEST.
Set one thousand years in the future, AFTER EARTH sees Smith assume the role of Cypher Raige, commanding general of the United Ranger Corps, who returns home after a long tour of duty to find eldest son Kitai (Smith’s real-life son and acting protegé, Jaden) flunking his tests and not making it into the academy. After telling his strict father of the news, Kitai’s mother Faia (Sophie Okonedo) suggests a bonding exercise that takes the duo across the universe on a relatively easy mission to a far off land in a galaxy far, far away. Tragedy strikes en route and after a rather hefty collision with a meteor shower, the duo and their crew crash-land on the hostile planet Earth where every living thing has evolved to kill human lifeforms. When severely injured Cypher is confined to a damaged control desk on the even more damaged vessel, it is up to the young Kitai to venture across hostile territory to rescue a homing beacon which will enable them to return home.
AFTER EARTH blasts off with a loud clattering bang from the opening frame, transporting the viewer into a futuristic land where humans live seemingly everywhere but the planet from which they evolved. The clatter and booms from the doomed spacecraft in the first scene propel the film into top gear and will initially have you in awe, but it cannot escape the shifting down of gears as the film progresses from there on in. The special effects, as expected, are second to none and throughout the opening few scenes are faultless. But they become a tad laughable as we journey through to a set piece set around a waterfall two-thirds in.
However, this is not the cinematic disaster many would have you believe. Jaden Smith has to carry this multi, multi-gazillion dollar special effects bonanza on his very young shoulders; a big ask for a film of this size. Father Will mirrors his character and entrusts the fate of the outing on his first-born, taking a literal back seat from the action. As with many of these futuristic, post-apocalyptic mega-budgeters, you can’t help but feel that the world in which we’re playing voyeur to has not been as exploited as we may have liked. There are plot holes aplenty and Jaden is far too young and inexperienced to pull off something of this magnitude – at least, not yet. Strong support comes via Zoe Kravitz as his older sister and from the always superb Okonedo, but they don’t have enough screen time for it to matter.
The distinct lack of mentioning the creative presence of M. Night Shyamalan so far is intentional, as this is as faraway from his brilliant early blockbusters as we can possibly get. Unfortunately this sci-fi actioner (which he co-scripted from a story idea by Will Smith) is nothing more than generic fodder. In a summer full of final frontiers, fast and furious automobiles and flights of fantasy with the MAN OF STEEL, the overblown AFTER EARTH is distinctly average, which for a big summer Will Smith adventure just isn’t good enough.
AFTER EARTH is released in UK cinemas on June 7th.