Movie review: After Earth

After Earth

(M) **

Director: M Night Shyamalan.

Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Isabella Kravitz.

APPARENTLY director M Night Shyamalan is still allowed to make movies.

This is despite the one-two punch of his most recent directorial efforts The Happening and The Last Airbender - two films so terrible they helped turn his name into a punchline.

Seemingly as a result of those films, his name has been a glaring omission from most of the promotional material for this futuristic father-son actioner. In the wake of his Sixth Sense success, his follow-ups Unbreakable, Signs and The Village had "M Night Shyamalan" stamped loud and proud on the posters - now, his moniker is nowhere to be seen.

It's actually fitting though. After Earth doesn't feature any of his increasingly ridiculous twists, nor does it have the horror-lite atmospheres that pervaded most of his movies. In short, it doesn't feel like a Shyamalan film.

Set 1000 years in the future, it is the tale of a father and son, played by real-life father-son duo Will and Jaden Smith. Will plays Cypher, a legendary general renowned for his fearlessness, and Jaden is Kitai, the son who dreams of following in his father's footsteps but is struggling to achieve that goal.

Cypher, urged by his wife (Okonedo), attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his son by inviting Kitai to join him at his latest posting on a far-flung planet.

But along the way, their spaceship crash lands on Earth, a planet humanity abandoned almost 1000 years ago and which now teems with new ways to kill you.

After Earth makes for a strange cinematic experience, one akin to watching someone playing a computer game.

This is mostly because of its structure, which involves Smith senior's injured general stuck in the wrecked spaceship and telling Smith junior's character what to do next, making Cypher the helper/narrator who pops up in a game and gives you your mission or explains how to pass the level. Kitai even has to reach "warm nodes" to be able to sleep without freezing to death, which are like save points.

This computer game structure also adds to the strangely emotionless vibe of the whole film. Fear is a major theme throughout - Cypher doesn't have it, Kitai has too much of it - but the film-makers have mistaken "fearlessness" for "emotionlessness" and made Will Smith's role is all business and no heart, affecting the mood of the movie.

When you take someone like Smith, who can dominate and drive a movie with his personality, and you make him act like he's made of stone, it sucks the life and fun out of a film. This is turn seriously affects whether we care about the characters at all. It also makes the few remaining attempts at pathos mawkish and strange.

It's not a total loss. There are some interesting ideas amid the dumb plot points, and Shyamalan has created (from a story by Will Smith) an interesting future universe.

Both Smiths perform well in spite of their cliched characters, and there are a few genuinely thrilling moments, including the moments leading up to crashlanding and an aerial pursuit involving an over-sized eagle.

With its coming of age story, themes about overcoming fear (which is a literal monster to be slain here) and the father-son bond, there's enough going on to keep you interested, but only just.

After Earth is ok - not good or great, but certainly not terrible. It's at least a step-up on the dire The Happening and the soporific The Last Airbender. Compared to those two films, After Earth looks like Citizen Kane. But that's not saying much really.

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