M. Night Shyamalan has an iffy track record with me. I actually didn’t have a problem with The Last Airbender (because I didn’t know the series and therefore wasn’t immediately distraught by what he did). But don’t get me started on The Happening or The Lady in the Water, both of which I can’t stand.
So… When M. Night teams up with the dynamic Smith duo, is it magic or is it a disaster?
The gist is that an emotionless warrior takes his son on a voyage that was meant to be uneventful but a horrible asteroid attack sends the ship down to the quarantined planet of Earth, that has long been abandoned. Will Smith stars as the father, while his real life son Jaden plays his son in the film.
The movie looks gorgeous, with tons of bright and vivid colors. The animals that they created for the film are interesting as well, with the highlight being the disgusting Ursa, which reminds me of the alien featured in Super 8 a little bit.
The movie is, from the very beginning, a survival movie. And they nailed that tone. As Jaden’s character adventures across the planet, you feel like every single thing on the planet is trying to kill him. It’s suspenseful and engaging. And the looming threat of the Ursa is constant.
I also appreciate M. Night’s trademark style, using flashbacks to enlighten you about these characters slowly, revealing little by little. It mostly reminded me of Signs and the Father’s wife’s accident, as we slowly learn what happened. Similar style here, and it works completely.
What doesn’t work?
Unfortunately, a lot. There’s a reason that critics are tearing this movie apart and that general audiences are about 50/50 on it.
The first big detractor is that Jaden isn’t yet a tested actor, like his father. He overacts often, though is convincing in a few bits. But he’s asked to basically carry this movie and I don’t think he was ready to carry that burden.
And Will Smith was underutilized in two ways. 1.) His character is a warrior trained to be emotionless, so he is literally flatline the whole movie and is extremely uninteresting. And 2.) his legs break upon impact on Earth, so we don’t even get to see that trademark action hero that we’re used to.
So when then two actors engage, we’ve got Will acting emotionless on purpose and Jaden acting emotionless because he doesn’t know what else to do.
While I appreciated the landscapes and color palette of the world, some of the CGI was sloppy and looked a little low-budget. When you only have two live actors for a majority of the movie, you’d expect that some more time and effort would go into making everything else look flawless.
The movie is suspenseful by nature and M. Night redeems some credibility but he cast actors that played against what was written for them. The charismatic action-hero Will Smith shouldn’t be playing an emotionless support character. And Jaden isn’t ready to headline a summer blockbuster like this. However, the movie isn’t horrible. Some people in my theater clapped when it was over, so some of you might find definite enjoyment, but the person you take with you might just as likely hate it utterly and completely. You’ve got a 50/50 chance.