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After Earth

Director M. Night Shyamalan has had a rough run. After knocking it out of the park with 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” and following that up with the critically well received “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” he fell off the wagon. His talents as a storyteller seemed to vanish and his scripts became more and more hackneyed with each successive film. He hasn’t directed a movie that one could reasonably argue as good in over a decade. Despite a rare marketing move that doesn’t highlight his involvement, “After Earth” is not his return to form. In fact, it may be his absolute worst, right down at the bottom of the barrel with 2010’s “The Last Airbender.” It’s a movie without ideas, adequate pacing, competent editing or a story worth caring about. Even with two charismatic leads, there is very little to like here.

Will Smith plays Cypher, a General on humankind’s new home planet, Nova Prime, which humanity was forced to flock to after they destroyed Earth’s atmosphere with carbon fuels. His son, Kitai, played by Jaden Smith, is lacking in discipline, so he decides to take him along on a routine trip through the cosmos. However, after taking severe damage in a scientifically inaccurate asteroid field, they’re forced to find the closest planet to crash land on, which just so happens to be Earth. The entire crew, aside from Cypher and Kitai, is killed in the crash and because Cypher’s legs are broken, it’s up to Kitai to save them. His mission is to travel to the tail of the ship, which broke apart upon atmospheric entry and now resides approximately 100 kilometers away, and locate the distress beacon.

Upon explaining Kitai’s mission, Cypher warns him, in what amounts to a screenwriter’s desperate attempt to raise the stakes of what is about to happen, all things on Earth since mankind’s evacuation have evolved to exterminate humans. Every living thing he’s going to encounter out there is going to try to kill him. That is except for spiders. And birds. And buffaloes. And hogs. And fish. Even the giant hawk that swoops down and grabs him seemingly only does so to protect him, going so far as to save his life later on. The only creature that poses any threat to him is, hilariously enough, a venomous leech, which latches onto his hand and nearly kills him before he’s able to stab the antidote into his heart. “After Earth” sets up rules and then refuses to play by them.

It’s almost as if Shyamalan didn’t think the viewers would realize this. In similar ways, the entire movie is essentially an insult to any moderately intelligent person sitting in the audience. For example, the entire planet (or at least the section of the planet they’re on) freezes over to uninhabitable temperatures at night, yet this doesn’t seem to affect the abundant and diverse wildlife. Additionally, it has only been 1,000 years since humans fled Earth. By evolutionary standards, that’s a drop in a giant bucket and certainly not enough time for the remaining wildlife to become what is depicted onscreen. In terms of logic, “After Earth” has next to none.

However, this isn’t its biggest flaw, nor is its meaningless narrative and thematically empty core, but rather a statement that being emotionless can be our greatest strength as human beings. Compare this to this summer’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” (or the entire “Star Trek” series as a whole), which stresses the importance and uniqueness of emotions to our species—besides, it’s what makes us who and what we are—and you have something so empty-headed it’s nearly unfathomable. This idea may be opposite of that blockbuster franchise, but it’s also counterintuitive to the very idea of existence and humanity. Somehow, “After Earth” even gets its ideas wrong.

Topping it off, much like any science fiction movie devoid of ideas, is an action packed finale involving a deadly alien, one that comes from a blind race of creatures who hunt their prey based on the pheromones we secrete when we are afraid (they “literally smell fear” as the narration puts it). What transpires is predictable and occurs as a result of some of the most obviously foreshadowed dialogue you’ll hear all year.

It’s time to call “The Sixth Sense” what it was: a fluke. It was a fantastic fluke, sure, but it was still a fluke. Since then, Shyamalan has done a nose dive into irrelevance and “After Earth” may be his worst yet. Its futuristic society is poorly conceived (they have no doors, sleep in hammocks and their spaceships look like they’re supported by bamboo poles), its CGI backgrounds are unconvincing and its editing fails to create the illusion of a consistent timeline; its copious amount of jump cuts, which will only be missed by those not paying attention, is distracting in a movie that needs as many victories as it can get. “After Earth,” to put it as bluntly as possible, is a disaster.

After Earth receives 0.5/5


The Karate Kid

There are lots of movies that can define a childhood. For some, The Wizard of Oz rings in their heads. For those perhaps a little less sophisticated, that first Mighty Morphin Power Rangers flick might be their fondest memory. Ask people my age what they grew up with and they may tell you the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid. Having seen that many times as a child, but none in recent years, I walked into the 2010 remake hesitant. Would fond memories of that film come flooding back to me as I watched or would it be able to carve out its own little place in my mind and work on its own terms? Well, I’m happy to report it was the latter. The Karate Kid remake is a fine film and those doubting it will live up to the original may have quite a shock coming.

The kid this time around is played by Jaden Smith. His name is Dre Parker and he is being forced to move from Detroit to China by his mother Sherry, played by Taraji P. Henson, who has just been transferred overseas by her employer, so he’s stuck there no matter how much he hates it, which is quite a bit. As soon as he arrives, the first day in fact, he gets beaten up by a nasty kid named Cheng, played ferociously by Zhenwei Wang. His life is hell and every day he lives with the fear of Cheng and his gang giving him a follow-up beating. One day while on the run, he meets Mr. Han, played by Jackie Chan, who saves him and puts the kids in their place. It turns out that they learned their craft from a local teacher, a mean guy whose motto is “No Weakness. No Pain. No Mercy.” But Han believes that kung-fu should be used for peace, not war and decides to talk to the teacher, only to enter Dre into the approaching kung-fu tournament, taking it upon himself to teach the boy discipline and hard work, thus making him strong enough to fight and protect himself.

The Karate Kid starts out weak. It’s one of those films that promises very little upon initial glance. The first scene shows Dre and his mother abruptly moving out, but not before showing us that his dad has died, seemingly begging for us to feel bad for him already. When he arrives in China, he makes a friend a bit too quickly and immediately meets a pretty girl. It’s this girl that helps him meet his bully. Even this is a little ridiculous. Cheng looks in no way intimidating and his dead cold stares only elicit laughter. The “bad guy” looks like little more than a wimp. But as they say, looks can be deceiving. As soon as he lands his first blow on Dre, your perception of him immediately changes. This kid means business and throughout the film the young actor does a terrific job of keeping the menace. He’s a sickly violent little creature and by the time the end rolls around, you’ll be begging to see him get his comeuppance.

Dre, on the other hand, is a good kid and wants only to be left alone. He’s scared out of his wits after his first encounter with Cheng and, similarly, looks like a wimp. But Jaden Smith, the offspring of the extremely talented Will Smith, does a terrific job. He’s of small body type, but his heart is big and he proves that you don’t necessarily need hulking muscles to fight, only a passion and desire to face your demons and prove your worth. Jaden is a natural in front of the camera and I feel comfortable saying he’s one of the best child stars working today.

But what really surprises here is Jackie Chan. After a string of “what was he thinking?” films, he’s finally back at the top of his game, but that isn’t the surprise. That comes from the fact that he actually has to act, and he's great. In his other American films, he merely has to kick and punch while smiling and cracking jokes, but here he has to emote and one scene in particular is heartbreaking. He took a role from the beloved Pat Morita in the original and made it his own, creating what is essentially a whole new character that thinks and feels and loves.

The film comes with faults, however. It chugs along for nearly two hours and fifteen minutes, a runtime far too long for a movie of this type, and drags in places, which could have been rectified had the romantic angle with the aforementioned pretty girl been dropped. Outside of one excellent scene late in the movie, the whole romance felt out of place and, frankly, a little weird.

But don’t tell that to the audience I was watching it with. I’ve never seen so much adulation for a film coming from the crowd. They were rooting for Dre the whole way, clapping at every hit landed on his foe and cheering for his victories. Indeed, it was a fun experience that I’m glad I had.

My thoughts on the trailer went back and forth prior to my screening. Sometimes it looked good. At other times it looked bad. But all of that doesn’t matter now. The final product is outstanding. The Karate Kid is an excellent film and is one of the biggest surprises of the year.

The Karate Kid receives 4/5