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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

After Earth | Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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After Earth | Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz | Review

One thousand years after Earth’s demise from the usual environmental, testosterone, and alien-based reasons, the remaining human population has relocated to distant planet Nova Prime, where everyone seems to speak in an odd accent (prime is pronounced as prom).  This is discovered in an immediate voice-over by Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), son of legendary Ranger Corps General Cypher Raige (Will Smith).

The voice-over is necessary because there is a lot of backstory to digest, including a tale of alien monsters that aren’t afraid of breaking and entering futuristic high-rises, targeting man and woman alike.  They impale their victims on tree branches like grotesque ornaments.

Blind, these aliens find their prey through the scent of fear.  Cypher can control his fear to the extent of having no scent allow him to prevail on  “ghosting” expeditions – a word that has come to mean successful dismemberment of the beast in hand-to-hand combat because it can’t perceive its fearless (and therefore scentless) hunter.

Cypher is a national hero, which causes him to be somewhat of an absentee dad.  Kitai is a rejected Ranger wannabe with something to prove.  Father/son tensions simmer as Cypher and Kitai tackle their largely unspoken guilt, disappointment and inadequacy issues.  

The humorless Cypher and the ever-sad/hurt/worried Kitai embark on a mission to Earth, bearing one of the captured alien beasts in what looks like a giant hornet’s nest.  The ship crashes.  Let the bonding begin.  

Kitai embarks on a dangerous mission through the mutated wilds of a still-recognizable Earth to find a piece of equipment that will save him and his father – if the escaped alien doesn’t get to them first.  Bond.  Smith bond.

This is Jaden Smith’s film, bankrolled by his family in order to showcase his burgeoning acting chops.  He’s got them, perhaps a bit more than the average kid, competently pulling off a range of physical if not emotional dramatics when required.  Gone is the ebullience of The Karate Kid (2010).  In its place is someone the viewer meets for the first time but knows instinctively – a sullen, brooding teen with parental issues.

Will Smith’s Cypher is a somber, serious-as-a-heart-attack warning of a man, devoid of any of the charm that made the actor famous or even likeable.  The one-note persona is disconcerting, as the viewer tries to connect a familiar face to unfamiliar territory, one of unceasing gravitas.

Sophie Okonedo and Zoe Kravitz have small supporting roles.  Seems even one thousand years into the future women tend to hover about in the home space more than aerospace.

Director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs) manages some effective moments of tension and suspense in his 100 minute foray into post-apocalyptic adventure.
Co-written with Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) from a story by Will Smith, Shyamalan bombards us early on with an almost seizure-inducing collection of rapid-fire flashbacks that distract and detract from the Cypher/Kitai dynamic (while ironically trying to explain it).  The film is NOT in 3-D but relies heavily on CGI flora and fauna for that other-worldly patina.
The entire production should have produced a better quest than what is offered, with an ending that wraps up much too hastily, making After Earth more of an afterthought than anything else.


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