After Earth: undeserving of it’s flop film status

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Sitting down to watch After Earth, I didn’t expect much. Having heard and read only negative feedback, I was prepared for the worst – a plodding adventure written by Will Smith (produced by him too) with the sole intention of raising his son Jaden to movie star status.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find myself drawn in by the suspense of this action-packed flick and not so pleasantly surprised to realize the majority of mainstream media were so obsessed with the fact Will Smith would have the audacity to costar with his son in a movie helmed by a “failed” director that they couldn’t just enjoy After Earth for what it is.

Prior to this, co-writer and director M. Night Shyamalan had been on a downward spiral that was seemingly out of control. After delivering a trio of great films – including The Sixth Sense – between 1999 and 2002, Shyamalan lost his footing and produced an unbroken string of bad movies. It is natural, I suppose, for one to expect that trend to continue. But it didn’t.

After Earth is not perfect, but it is Shyamalan’s best movie since 2002’s Signs. It is also a compelling science-fiction adventure that works as both a coming-of-age tale and a parable about father-son relationships.

The film is set in a distant future where human beings – having damaged Earth beyond repair – are living on a new world. During a routine military mission, a famous human general named Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his 13-year-old boy, Kitai (Smith’s son, Jaden), crash land on the old human home world. Because Earth is unstable and populated by a host of deadly creatures, Kitai and Cypher are in remarkable danger.

As with a lot of semi-enjoyable science-fiction movies, After Earth has points that strain credibility. For instance, the characters possess only crude, close-range weapons despite being advanced enough for intergalactic travel. Focusing on this could ruin one’s appreciation for the picture. But beneath the surface-level problems lies a movie that is both action-packed and emotionally stirring.

Shyamalan does a fine job with pacing, and Will Smith is solid as a hardened military veteran who realizes that he and his son are facing long odds. Jaden Smith is less polished than his father, however, and he speaks in a poorly chosen (and never explained) accent. An annoying aspect, to be sure, but one easily ignored.

After Earth is a film that should have helped Shyamalan regain his stature in the film industry. Unfortunately, the early backlash was so nasty that it may have actually sped his fall. Definitely not out of this world, but an enjoyable film that by no mean deserves its bad reputation.

MIB III: bends space and time but fails to rock my world

This week saw the third, and presumably the last, instalment in what has become a Men in Black trilogy.

Starring an ever youthful looking Will Smith, a rather deliberately haggard looking Tommy Lee Jones, and an astonishingly handsome Josh Brolin, MIB III has all the hallmarks of its predecessors. Both tongue in cheek and cringe-tastic humour runs rampant through the flick, awkward at some points but chuckle-inducing at many.

The premise of the film is simple – an enemy alien force seeks revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) for his loss of a limb and subsequent years of imprisonment. Breaking free of his lunar prison after 40 years, the delectably devious Borris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) discovers the secret of time travel and journeys back to the day his evil plan was thwarted and attempts a re-write of history. Agent J (Will Smith) discovers the plan and has no choice but to follow Borris back through time and tries to save his surly and unwitting partner.

Being totally honest, this film is not a ground-breaking one. It is simplistic, sometimes childish and most of the screen time is devoted to Will Smith. Despite its failings, however, I do think it’s well worth a watch for the majority of people out there. At the very least, it’s several times better than MIB II: a disastrous movie indeed.

Most films that incorporate time travel end up being slightly confusing… sometimes intentionally so. This is not the case with MIB III. They’ve kept things as easy to follow as possible and it actually ends up being a better movie because of that. Unlike some of the more intellectual time travel movies, it just wants to entertain you, it doesn’t want to mess with you head.

Another plus comes in the form of Josh Brolin who plays the younger version of Agent K. Brolin is probably the best thing about this film as he completely rejuvenated Jones’ character. His slow, melodic drawl is a dead ringer for Jones’ own speech. Throw in some familiar dialogue for past and present Agent K and suddenly you’re seeing into the past. Apart from speech patterns, the two also share some very similar physical attributes which adds to the believability of it all.

Of course, fans of MIB I and II may get annoyed that there’s not much continuity between the three films… one fan, for example, mentioned to me that Agent O is nowhere to be seen in I or II yet, going on occurrences in III, she has apparently been a big part in Agent K’s life. I’m sure the writers and producers could explain this away by saying she left the country (or something) while the events of I and II unfolded… but it’s still an annoying continuity error.

If you’re going to see this film, don’t expect be blown away, don’t get hung up on the events of the first two films, and don’t over-analyse the characters. Accept the film as a bit of light-hearted entertainment and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

 

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