It’s Earth, Jim, but not as we know it in the latest venture for the Smith family dynasty, a sci-fi fantasy set a millennium from now on a world long since abandoned.
Things have much changed in the interim: evolution, climate and geology have rendered the third rock from the sun a veritable death-trap for its former overlords.
Fearless general Cypher Raige (Will Smith, stern and sonorous) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith, teary and tremulous) have their work cut out, then, when a brush with an asteroid field sends their spaceship crashing down onto the planet of their forefathers. Well, Kitai does at any rate, broken legs forcing Pops to stay in the wreckage while the boy retrieves a beacon jettisoned 60 miles away.
You expect a twist in an M. Night Shyamalan movie and this is After Earth’s: it’s a Will Smith film in which he plays second fiddle. Instead it’s Jaden who does all the running, jumping and fighting, there being tigers and leeches and apes (oh my!) stood between him and his prize.
Oh, and did we mention the enormous, slimy alien the Raiges inexplicably brought along for the ride? Yes, it’s after Kitai too. Looking back, that tournament in The Karate Kid was a cakewalk in comparison.
There’s a lot to admire here: the boldly swooping camerawork, pinpoint-sharp 4K visuals and enough forest-based mayhem to rival Avatar.
Yet there is much to titter at too, most of it emanating from a clunky, cumbersome script containing more than one preposterous incident. There’s not a lot that Will – saddled with a static role to rival Ryan Reynolds in Buried – can do with lines like “This mission has reached abort criteria!”
But for all its mealy-mouthed dialogue and often comical solemnity After Earth at least delivers consistently diverting entertainment – something you couldn’t say of Shyamalan’s last directorial outing, the calamitous Last Airbender.
Jaden Smith takes centre stage in a futuristic rites of passager that plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. Although Oblivion narrowly remains this summer’s better ruined-Earth actioner.