As Rotten Tomatoes says:
A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige and his legendary father Cypher stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home.
WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!
1000 years in the future, the human race was forced to abandon earth and move to a new world. Why geo-engineering schemes failed, and how moving to a new planet was easier and cheaper than saving the Earth we already know and love was not really explained. We find and settle a new home. But there’s a problem. Aliens also covet this new world. So they dump a race of highly fanged and clawed monsters on it.
Hang on, what? They didn’t bombard us from space by droping a rock or firing nukes? They didn’t use HK Drones or terminators or super-viruses or nanotoxin clouds of doom?
No. They dumped giant velociraptors on us. Not only that, they’re blind velociraptors, and sniff out their prey. Not only that, they’ve actually got a really poor sense of smell as well (anosmia or ‘nose-blindness’) and cannot even smell us unless we are terrified and exuding fear pheromones. They sniff out our fear.
Oh no. Anyone already detecting the horrible, inevitable cliche of learning to ‘control your fear’ just at the right moment at the end of the story?
Our hero is Jaden Smith (oh no!) trying to relate to Will Smith who plays an emotionally distant military figure, the General. Cliche much? Surely some army dads love their kids and hug them now and then, eat pizza and watch a superhero movie or two with them? It’s not only distant-military cliche, it’s the whole ‘father and son actors work out their issues on stage’ cliche.
Now it’s a Will Smith movie. Is he going to save the world, again? I can hear Mr Incredible,
“No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!”
How many times is Will Smith going to save the world? He’s already done so in Independence Day(1996), Men in Black(1997), Enemy of the State(1998), Wild Wild West(1999), Men in Black II(2002), I, Robot(2004),
I Am Legend(2007), Hancock(2008), Men in Black 3(2012), and so will
After Earth(2013) become number 10?
The introduction seems to suggest no. He’s already done his bit. He already saved the world in the backstory! It’s how he became the great General after teaching those worthy soldiers who could conquer their fear how to ‘ghost’, or so conquer your fear that you become invisible to the enemy. Will Smith’s powers of ghosting are so awesome that he killed many of these monsters in with his cool spear, a nano-shape shifting melee weapon he calls his ‘cutlass’.
Right from the word go we are being lectured that scaredy-cats get eaten, and Jaden Smith will have to conquer his fear to impress his overly distant father. Fine. I can dig another lesson in controlling my fear if they tell a convincing story along the way. But the basic story has so many fundamental technological and cultural inconsistencies that I had trouble not shouting at the TV.
Technology plot-hole 1: guns
It’s 1000 years in the future! So instead of a shape-shifting spear, why not some kind of energy weapon? Let’s call it a ‘ray gun’ for short! ;-) Or if that fails, gee, a few RPG’s wouldn’t go astray! Even an old AK47 should finish one of those beasts off. The lack of guns is never explained. It’s a real problem.
Technology plot-hole 2: space-suits
In 1000 years Jaden Smith runs around in a cool shape-shifting, mode shifting environment suit. It’s so fantastic he can jump of a cliff and it automatically creates webbing between his arms and legs, converting him into a glider possum. It can guard him from various environmental pollutants, help him swim, and who knows what else: it was always changing colour. He wore on their space ship. But this space-fearing civilisation with an impressive shape-shifting military suit couldn’t muster up a helmet? Gee, a helmet would sure come in handy in the event of — I don’t know — a SPACE ACCIDENT? Apparently we stuffed the earth so bad 1000 years ago in story history that there’s not enough oxygen. Jaden has to inhale medical goo that coats and filters his lungs. Or his suit could helmet up! Seriously, just about any techno-babble explanation could have covered this. The helmet-mode broke in the crash, or it used too much power, or something. But there’s no explanation as to why their suits have no helmet or oxygen tanks or oxygen concentration filters. The techno-babble in this movie just makes no sense. For instance, what’s wrong with the earth’s oxygen content anyway? The place is covered in forest. It looks like there’s plenty of nature producing plenty of oxygen.
Technology plot-hole 3: space-suits: again!
A helmet-mode in their nano-tech space suit would sure come in handy against a dinosaur that was blind to everything except the stink of your fear! Imagine their new home planet. Everyone could wear these cool suits and the moment a monster showed up, helmet mode would activate and they could casually take their time to go get a few rifles out of the cupboard. Everyone could ‘ghost.‘
Technology plot-hole 4: sneaking monsters
In the backstory, Kitai’s sister is murdered by monster that somehow snuck up on the family home. Ahem. How? Did the settlement fail to shoot out the monster-detecting probes that The General used to track Kitai on Earth, and showed where the monster was from kilometres away? Boy, that might be a good technology to deploy around every city on this terribly hostile planet.
Technology plot-hole 5: war?
Their military have monster sniffing drones. Why haven’t they cleared the home planet of them yet? Shoot out the drones, fly over in a futuristic helicopter gunship and blast the beasts! Even today’s helicopter gunships should be able to take them out. One hit, and they’re mincemeat.
PS: If the aliens keep dropping their blind and anosmic-but-for-fear pets on the planet, and they really want that planet, why haven’t they learned that their monsters just are not up to scratch?
Psychology plot-hole: what’s wrong with fear?
A little fear is a good thing: some in the military might say it’s essential and shows reveals that you’re not some sort of psychopath.
Jaden Smith? Again?
In short it had some cool costumes and set pieces, and I liked the semi-organic ships with weird plastic doorways everywhere. The future earth was… unnecessarily alien. It did not explain how so many species had evolved to be so hostile in just 1000 years. But the internal logic of the plot died when they decided to run into battle with a sword, and become Zen Buddhist monks conquering their fear rather than packing some serious heat against a dinosaur. The lack of adequate cultural and technological adaptation, suits and guns, stretched suspension of disbelief till it not only split, but fissioned apart hot enough to dwarf Hiroshima. It deserves it’s 1 Rotten Tomato! Poor M. Night Shyamalan. He just can’t recapture the vibe.