VOD film review: After Earth
James Butlin | On 18, Oct 2013
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
Where to watch After Earth online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
After Earth is an interesting one. It marks a crossing of two vastly different paths. On the one hand, the return of Hollywood juggernaut Will Smith, a star whose films sell solely on his name and one of the most powerful actors in Hollywood. On the other hand, it’s the latest attempt at a comeback by M. Night Shyamalan, a director who has fallen out of favour after critical flops, such as The Last Airbender and The Happening. The good news is that the film’s success doesn’t depend on either of the two names above: it’s actually Will’s son, Jaden Smith, who carries the film.
Jaden plays Kitai Raige, who must signal for help alone when his father, Cypher (Will Smith, is injured and confined to the ship in which they’ve crash-landed on earth. The same earth the human race had to evacuate a thousand years ago, after it was overrun by fearsome predators.
At first, After Earth was sold as a Will Smith vehicle; he was heavily featured in trailers, interviews (alongside Jaden) and all other promotional material. There was barely any mention of Shyamalan’s name. But as the credits roll, it’s easy to see why the film has been marketed the way it has, with a story by Will Smith and produced by both him and Jada Pinkett-Smith. With their son in the lead, they have a vested interest here.
It feels a bit of a cheat to go in anticipating lots of the Fresh Prince and being given his younger counterpart instead, but once you adjust your expectations, this is a fairly solid sci-fi adventure. The swooping landscapes of the new planet are beautiful, from dense forests to giant waterfalls; they’re as good as any you’ll see. The general technology is less original; the only new addition to genre staples seems to be fluid that characters inhale from Jammie Dodger biscuits to allow them to breathe in unfamiliar environments.
The sci-fi vibe Shyamalan creates is a long way from what he’s known as being good for – there’s no twist ending or dark plot themes – but this is a simple tale done well. Will’s role is toned down, paving the way for Jaden to have free reign and Smith Jr. more than holds his own. If anything, it’s Will that doesn’t perform well enough. He’s unlikeable and unconvincing as the stern, almost emotionless, military father – some distance from why most would see something starring the actor.
If you’re looking for a Will Smith film, this won’t satisfy your appetite. If you’re looking for a Shyamalan film, again, this won’t hit the spot. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable sci-fi film with a decent young lead, then After Earth will be an easy hour and a half of your time.