M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth marks Jaden Smith’s return to the big screen, this time with his father Will. This is the second major film that the father-son duo is appearing in, following 2006’s Pursuit of Happiness.
After Earth largely is a coming out party for Jaden that tests his ability to carry a movie because while Will does play a large role, make no mistake, this is Jaden’s show.
The film kicks off by showing the devastating damage done to the Earth through cataclysmic events, forcing humanity to settle on a planet called “Nova Prime.” The migration isn’t perfect however as the humans quickly discover that they are not alone on Nova Prime. It is already home to a monstrous species. Humanity’s defending army is lead by Cypher Raige, played by Will Smith. Cypher is widely recognized as the hero of the human race on Nova Prime. Jaden comes into the story, as you’ve probably guessed, as Cypher’s son, Kitai Raige. Kitai is a star cadet of the Ranger Corps
During rest of the film we see Kitai face numerous dangers during his journey. The metaphor is easy to see here as his journey to retrieve the beacon is essentially both his journey to become a man as well as to get his father’s long sought after approval. The film is cinematically beautiful, particularly during the scenes in space as well as in specific sequences such as Kitai’s drop from a waterfall towards the latter part of the story. The Nova Prime sequences all bear a close resemblance to the surface of Mars. A lot of the cinematography of this film resembles the work done in James Cameron’s Avatar and while After Earth has a more appealing story than Avatar, the draw of its special effects is definitely similar to Cameron’s creation. Cinematically speaking, seeing it in 3D would likely take it from being an average film buff’s eye candy to a visual odyssey. Shyamalan’s directing here was also noticeably superior to most of his recent work. The dialogue worked well for the most part and the film didn’t drag on.
Overall the film does exactly what it was meant to do: Showcase Jaden as a potential future star in the business and have Will give him small nudges along the way. Fans expecting to see another Will Smith blockbuster will be disappointed since he’s in more of a supporting role here but Jaden’s presence as the main actor was pleasantly refreshing. Hopefully this role will serve as Jaden’s eventual catapult out of his father’s shadow.
After Earth will be out in theaters May 31st.