Movie Review: After Earth

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Danger is real.  Fear is a choice.

Imagine yourself at home, alone, late at night.  You are preoccupied with watching TV, when all of a sudden you hear something that shouldn’t be— the floor creaking in another room of the house.  You tell yourself that there is a simple explanation… wood expands and shrinks all the time.

But now you are more alert.  The second time it happens could be coincidence.  But the third time… the third time your mind begins to think of the possibility—what if I’m not alone?

Your body, on edge, begins its fight or flight response and your blood fills with adrenaline over what is ultimately an imagined danger.

This is fear.

For the second time, real-life father and son Will Smith and Jaden Smith team up to play father and son on screen in this futuristic action/suspense film.

Will Smith portrays General Cypher Raige, the man without fear.  Long past the time when Earth’s resources and habitat are depleted, humanity finds itself at war with an alien species that literally preys on the fear of humans.  The aliens hunt humans based on the chemicals secreted when humans are afraid.  They can smell fear.

The soldier-who’s-seen-too-much, Cypher Raige has a non-existent relationship with his son, Kitai, portrayed by Jaden Smith.  Cypher’s job is to teach others how to overcome fear in an attempt to gain the upper hand on the alien threat and, in doing so, is constantly away from his family.

Kitai, on the other hand, is trying to accomplish in his short life what his father, Cypher, took a lifetime to accomplish.  For Kitai, this means overcoming his fears.  Keep this theme in mind, as we will come back to it later.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, After Earth is his first film since The Sixth Sense to not use his name as a part of the advertising campaign.  This is, presumably, because the name now carries a warning label rather than the intrigue it once did. As a writer and director, Shyamalan has stuck out with audiences for nearly a decade with films such as The Last Airbender (2010), The Happening, and Lady in the Water.

Watch the trailer for After Earth on YouTube.  The movie seems straightforward—father and son crash on an abandoned future-Earth and must fight to survive. But, once you find out Shyamalan’s hand is present, you begin to wonder what kind of movie you are in for.  Thoughts of twist endings, hackneyed messages, and Shyamalan-self-insertions often spring to mind.

Don’t let the fact that Shyamalan directed this movie sway you away from seeing it, though.  Thankfully, After Earth doesn’t suffer because of his direction.

This bring us to the most interesting part of the movie—the parallel between Cypher/Kitai and Will/Jaden.  There is an odd similarity between Cypher giving instruction and guiding Kitai from behind the scenes and Will Smith trying to guide his young son’s career.  Kitai stands in the shadow of a respected and beloved general and tries to follow in his footsteps.  Certainly Jaden knows a thing or two about trying to follow in a successful father’s footsteps.

Should you take the kids to see After Earth? As always, that is up to the parents to decide.  However, here are some things you should consider.

The movie is rated PG-13.

There is no sex or nudity in the film whatsoever.

There is mild suspenseful action in the film.  Earth is described as a quarantined planet where everything has evolved to kill humans and that is an accurate description.  Kitai has to escape several harrowing situation and fight off a number of creatures.  There is some blood shown as a result of injuries and emergency surgery is performed at one point, but nothing graphic is shown.

There is little to no profanity.

After Earth doesn’t do anything wrong, but it doesn’t do anything spectacular or new.  Ultimately, for a summer blockbuster, more is expected.

After Earth gets 3/5 stars.

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