The sci-fi adventure, “After Earth, is intended to be teen star Jaden Smith’s “breakout” starrer, geared to make him the current film season’s hottest young comer.
The fantasy-action production is set a thousand years in the future, when Planet Earth is no longer habitable and aliens have created monsters designed to kill off the rest of the human race.
But, they haven’t counted on our innate ability to triumph over the most seemingly insurmountable odds, thanks to the leadership of self-evolved visionaries like General Cypher (played by Jaden’s real-life dad and top booster, Will Smith).
The general is the perfect man for the “impossible” task at hand, because he’s trained himself to banish all fear and even become a “ghost,” virtually invisible to the “superior” enemy, and thus the victor in many of their battles, despite his forces’ clearly being outmanned and outgunned.
But, the general’s victories have taken their toll on his personal life, resulting in the death of his daughter and his unintended neglect of his young son, Kitai (Jaden).
Belatedly, Cypher has decided to make amends by retiring—but before that happens, he and his son are forced to crash-land their spacecraft on the “dead” planet, where their “superior” foe methodically hunts them down.
The general is seriously wounded, so it’s young Kitai who has to walk and run a hundred miles across the now inhospitable planet to reach the beacon which will make it possible for them to be rescued and saved from inevitable death.
Thus, although Cypher is a constant guide from beginning to end by way of the advanced technology that links them, it’s the teenager who has to deal first-hand with the many dangers and monsters that threaten him at every turn. This gives Jaden all the film time he needs to make a major impact on viewers’ sensibilities, and he succeeds up to a point—until the movie’s occasionally lethargic storytelling gets in the way.
We admire the production for refusing to resort to the strident sound level and frenetic special effects that other sci-fi blockbusters use to pump up their action and excite moviegoers, but “After Earth” ends up erring in the opposite direction—it’s occasionally too small and “soft” to keep viewers constantly interested and involved.
On the plus side, the film has a “deep” side to it as it invites viewers to think about valor and victory in a new way. Since its older hero is an evolved creature, and his son and heir eventually follows suit, their struggle to survive becomes a “teaching” journey, during which moviegoers can empathetically learn lessons about the true essence of courage, the ability to vanquish fear, and the psychic link that can be developed between father and son, which continues to “work” even after all technology has failed!
In this sense, “After Earth” sometimes feels more like an oriental kung fu production than a big, brash American blockbuster. —Maybe the disconnect is part of the problem?
In any case, the film does provide Jaden Smith with a vibrant showcase for his abilities as actor and action star. If he puts on additional heft and grows up some more, he could emerge as the young film comer to beat—next year.
As for Will Smith, he may have graciously opted to play “support” to his son so that the young man could really shine, but his presence is felt throughout the film, even when he isn’t physically present. That takes love—and talent!