Sunday, May 14, 2017

After Earth (2013)

Some centuries (or more) in the future. Humanity has fled the Earth they fucked up royally and fled to the stars. Alas, their planned new home already had a owner, and we’re now quite some time into some sort of interstellar conflict where the (supposedly evil) aliens use so-called Ursa against humanity, big ugly animal-type things that smell fear.

Humanity is fighting back thanks to people who are psychically so damaged (well, that’s what I say, the film thinks it’s a-okay) they can shut off their fear completely. The best of these guys is the hilariously named Cypher Raige (Will Smith). In what it’s difficult to see as a surprising turn of events, Cypher also happens to be a crap father. His son, the only mildly less bizarrely monikered Kitai (Jaden Smith) – yes, Kitai Raige – tries to live up to his father’s legend, but doesn’t quite manage to. It’s not that he lacks the physical abilities to become a professional killer, but he’s still a kid who acts and feels like one, so the whole unhealthily shunting off an emotion that has helped humanity survive since it existed thing is rather beyond him. That he was the witness to the traumatic killing of his sister by an Ursa certainly doesn’t help there either.

Kitai will have to learn quick though, for the space ship he and his father are on crashes down on one of the most dangerous planets in the known universe: Earth itself. Surprisingly enough, the place isn’t a toxic hellhole but more of a jungle world full of nasty animals. Kitai and Cypher are the only survivors of the crash, and because Cypher has broken both of his legs, and all survival equipment in this future is built to be as breakable as possible, it’s up to Kitai to save the day.

Having a rich and famous dad really has its perks. If you play your cards right, Daddy’s going to buy you your very own survivalist SF adventure to star in. At least that’s how my cynical half reads the existence of this film. My other half enjoyed the film well enough, so I’m not too down on the Smiths, particularly since the younger Smith does comport himself better than I feared. At least, he’s a more convincing actor than his Dad was when he was young. The elder Smith for his part has developed into a decent, dependable kind of actor who sells even the ideologically dubious, and psychologically wrong-headed monologues about fear the film uses instead of actually having father and son bond like people with a degree of grace.

Otherwise, this is a perfectly entertaining little survivalist SF adventure about a teenager fighting various surprisingly crappy looking CGI animals, panicking like a teenager, and having it off with his dad. I’d have wished that the absurdly easily breakable survival equipment of this particular future wouldn’t have been an important plot point three times but then this is directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan who must have been rather confused when he realized he had to use other screen writing techniques than a big plot twist in the end, even more so since he also had to keep his religious proselytizing out and replace it with anti-psychological nonsense about fear. As a director, Shyamalan is pretty much in neutral mode here, doing a perfectly competent job without showing much personality. One might argue that’s better in his case anyway.

It is obvious that I’m not feeling particularly close to the resulting film but when it comes to SF adventure movies, you certainly can do much worse, and while the film isn’t ambitious at all, it is doing what it does well enough.

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