Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Like many people, I was once a big M. Night Shyamalan supporter. Then he slowly started to direct movies that just didn't seem to work. I assumed that after the fiasco that was The Last Airbender, no one would hire him to direct porn. Once we think we have Hollywood figured out, they do something that we never expect. When I initially heard about the adaptation of After Earth starring Will Smith, Shyamalan was the last person I thought they would find to direct it. Despite my misgivings, I wanted to see Smith and Jaden Smith as a duo again.
In the remake of Karate Kid (which should have been called Kung Fu Kid - excuse my snobbery), Jaden Smith did okay. It was Jackie Chan who saved that movie portraying an alcoholic who never recovered from losing his family. It was still very enjoyable. Although Jaden Smith is the central character in the movie, it's Will Smith who gives his best performance ever.
Cypher Raige (Will Smith) decides to take his son, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) on a mission to another planet. During the trip, their ship is damaged in a meteor shower and they are forced to crash land on Earth which was abandoned 1,000 years before. Cypher's legs are broken and he is forced to send Kitai, who has failed his promotion to become a Ranger like his father, on a solo mission to retrieve a distress beacon. As a father of four wonderful children, I couldn't help but love this movie. When Cypher places a survival kit on Kitai's back and says "I will be able to see everything you see and more," I couldn't help but wish we had that technology to place on our children. Cypher was able to warn his son of incoming dangers and update him on everything from his heart rate, weather patterns, other life forms, and other pieces of information we parents wish we had when our children are on their own. Through the first half of the journey, Cipher guides his son at each step. Towards the middle, Kitai disobeys his father and strikes out on his own while losing all video and audio contact with Cypher.
Kitai has big shoes to fill. His father is a General in the Rangers who is the first to learn how to "ghost." In humanity's battle against unknown aliens, they are pitted against these blind Ursas which can sense humans through the pheromones they secret via fear. Cypher learns how to hide his emotion so the violently ugly Ursas cannot "see" him. His father is the definition of stoicism. Cypher is the winner of many battles and savior of many soldiers. He is the the future Chesty Puller. At the same time, Cypher is a family man who has a strained relationship with Kitai especially after his daughter is killed by a Ursa while Cypher is away on yet another mission. Kitai witnesses his sisters death, believes he is at fault, and that his father blames him. Kitai struggles with that idea throughout the story. Again, Will Smith pulls it off.
The technology deployed by humanity is amazing. It's a mix between the artificial and the biological. Even the weapons used by the Rangers are sleek. There are no huge lasers or shields. While this movie takes place about a thousand years in the future, Shyamalan decided to focus on an actor driven plot. While Jaden Smith couldn't carry the movie, Will Smith pulled it through.
Again as a parent, I couldn't help but relate. Cypher falls back and forth between General and father with ease but continues to hide his emotion. When he realizes Kitai is lying to him, Cypher wonders if Kitai is failing him as a soldier or coming through as his son. Will Smith pulls that off with relative ease. One can help but hold their breath when Kitai runs and jumps off the cliff to glide through the air towards his destination while defying his father's orders. Cypher is forced to place all his faith in Kitai his son, not Kitai the failed Ranger.
Kitai learns to defeat his inner Ursa before he is to fight the Ursa that stalks him. All children must do the same. All of his doubts, fears, and anxieties are pushed away as Kitai focuses on his mission. He realizes that he could have done nothing to save his sister and that it is up to him to save his family. In doing so, Kitai teaches his father how to turn off his ghosting.
My only gripe with this movie is that too much of it was laid on Jaden Smith's shoulders. While Will Smith came through, the younger Smith really struggled with his parts. While Zoe Kravitz' parts were scarce, her potential was evident. Another problem were the accents. I understand that humans lived on a new planet but there was a mixture of some hybrid Texan, British accent that threw the dialogue off. Overall, while the movie is not the usual action and explosive block buster despite the big budget, it is still something new.