After Earth is a family affair, reuniting Will and Jaden Smith for the first time since the saccharine 2006 drama The Pursuit Of Happyness.
M Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi blockbuster is a perfect vehicle for Smith Snr to pass on the mantle, combining elements of I Am Legend and Independence Day with a deeply human story of a soldier struggling to connect with his grief-stricken child.
There are some lovely, tender moments in Shyamalan’s script, co-written by Gary Whitta, that draw heavily on the natural chemistry between the leads.
Unfortunately, the demands of a summer blockbuster and the film’s epic scope, achieved through a blitzkrieg of digital effects, tend to overwhelm that fragile and sometimes heartbreaking humanity.
In the distant future, Earth is a devastated wasteland, uninhabited by humans who have relocated to Nova Prime.
This new planet is also home to an alien race called The Skrel, which views the interlopers as vermin.
So The Skrel unleash The Ursa: hideously deformed creatures which track humans by the scent of fear pheromones.
One man, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) from The Ranger Corps, learns to overcome his fear through a phenomenon called “ghosting”, which allows him to walk among The Ursa undetected, slaughtering the killing machines without mercy.
Cypher’s son Kitai (Jaden Smith) trains to become a member of The Ranger Corps in order to assuage his guilt about the death of his older sister (Zoe Isabella Kravitz).
While Cypher is emotionally cold and logical, Kitai is passionate and reckless, and his application to The Corps is rejected.
So Cypher’s wife Faia (Sophie Okonedo) implores her husband to bond with Kitai during a final mission before retirement.
A freak asteroid storm badly damages their spaceship, which crash-lands on Earth.
Cypher and his boy are the only survivors.
With his father critically ill, Kitai must keep a cool head to retrieve a rescue beacon and alert HQ to their dire predicament.
Set 1,000 years after cataclysmic events that almost snuffed out mankind, After Earth is a rites-of-passage story viewed largely through the eyes of a boy desperate to impress his idol.
That central relationship is the glue that holds Shyamalan’s film together, when other elements including overblown action sequences threaten to tear the picture apart.
While the characters only have to suppress fear to survive, the Two Smiths choose to eradicate almost all tangible emotion from their respective performances.
We should be thankful that Shyamalan’s unfortunate experience with 3D on The Last Airbender steered the director away from employing the same format here.
A menagerie of computer-generated apes, big cats and birds of prey, which hunt Kitai on futuristic Earth, are shockingly unrealistic in 2D, let alone in eye-popping close-up.
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5.5/10
Released: June 7 (UK & Ireland), 100 mins