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After Earth

After Earth

In Theatres: 
May 31, 2013

"After Earth is a solid return from a string of bad entries from Shyamalan."

Thousands of years ago, we destroyed our own planet. Through litter and utter neglect, Earth was close to destroyed. Aliens attacked us by dropping off large, vicious creatures named The Usar. With no vision, the Usar hunt by detecting fear which made Earth's destruction that much easier. We re-located to the stars and created a space station to live in. A permanent home away from home. A thousand years later, Sergeant Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has returned to his family from a long tour of duty to hear that his son, Katai (Jaden Smith), is not fit for his Ranger training due to his immature and irresponsible attitude. In response, Cypher takes his son on an expedition to teach him how to properly become a ranger, like his father. All of a sudden, their spacecraft crash lands into uncharted territory, one that is crawling with dangerous creatures at every corner. This is Earth. With his father disabled, Katai must search for the tail end of their ship and recover a beacon to send for help. Unfortunately, Katai is not alone: An Usar is loose and hunting him. For Katai, the danger is very real.

In his first movie since his last directorial disaster The Last Airbender, After Earth has marked M. Night Shyamalan's return to form. Not that After Earth is a crowning achievement, it's a fairly small and moderate movie. Yet, for as small as it is, After Earth is enjoyable. It just lacks exactly what Katai fights and searches himself for during the entire film: Courage. Shyamalan plays it very safe here and honestly, he couldn't afford to do anything else. He took chances (ones he never needed to, really) with The Happening and The Last Airbender and was met with horrid reviews. With After Earth, Shyamalan doesn't hide anything from the audience. He introduces key elements to play off later on and uses very unsubtle metaphors to explain what his characters are doing at that time (I.E Katai literally leaving a birds nest to save his father). And even though it plays extremely safe, After Earth isn't half bad.

It's almost like Shyamalan found a way to actually capture a good teen literature movie. Even with giant best sellers to support them, it feels like the series like Hunger Games and Twilight just don't seem as enjoyable as something as similar in story structure as After Earth is. Although I'll never understand why he decided to go outside of his twisty-thriller genre, it's refreshing to know that Shyamalan can find stability in the Teen Lit filmmaking world.

With Cypher crippled and immobile for 75% of the run-time, After Earth relies heavily on Jaden Smith and his acting chops to reel people in and make them invested in Katai and his journey, both physical and spiritual. Jaden does well but it does feel like a somewhat missed mark in the long run. It's a little difficult to fully explain without giving away some end results, but Katai's realization to his journey feels sudden and almost forced. However, the journey is full of thrills and exciting action set pieces so it doesn't end up feeling ruined. Will Smith is fully taking a back seat on this one and lets his son take control. Other than his charm and charisma, Will feels a bit under used, but seeing as he actually hired Shyamalan to direct this project, I imagine he was fine with being second lead from the beginning steps.

After Earth has been sold as a big film with vast jungles and beautiful scenery when it's really an intimate story told with sometimes pretty backdrops. It's a minor film but one that is handled very well, although safely. I'll miss Shyamalan in his Signs and Sixth Sense years, but After Earth is a solid return from a string of bad entries. Don't be too surprised if you see M. Night on the shortlist of possible directors for the third Hunger Games.

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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