A millennium after humans have abandoned earth, a spacecraft crashes back onto the surface, leaving Kitai Raige and his father Cypher stranded. With Cypher injured, it’s up to Kitai to travel across a valley to the wreckage of their craft, where he can activate a beacon to call for help.
A few years ago, when I was bright-eyed, naively optimistic young lad attending film school, I listened intently to one of the first lectures our film history lesson gave us. It’s a lesson that has always stuck with me, even after all these years, even after I’ve more or less traded the set life with it’s hectic contract jobs and sporadic hours, for local television life with it’s steady paycheck and monotonous set hours. Our teacher said that in film, you can do anything you want, however you want, as long as you follow the golden rule of film. And the gold rule was: THOU SHALT ENTERTAIN! As long as you follow that rule, you are free to do whatever you like. Well, this film breaks that golden rule. It’s not entertainment. It’s a boring, emotionless walk from one location to another, with characters so joyless and a storyline so basic, that it’s a challenge not to fall asleep during this movie.
(SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness) and his father Cypher (Will Smith, Suicide Squad) crash land on earth a millennium after humans have abandoned the planet. In the crash, Cypher’s leg was wounded and he’s unable to move. Kitai must travel across a large stretch of land to find the wreckage of their ship, where there is a distress beacon that, once activated, will summon people to save them. Along the way, Kitai faces dangers and must learn how to master his fear; if he can’t, they both will die.
One of the main plot points in this movie concerns alien creatures called Ursas, which can smell fear in humans. Cypher develops a technique called ghosting, which is essentially having no fear so that the Ursas can’t smell or sense you. This technique is something that 90% of the people we come in contact with have mastered. Now, from the way that this was directed I’m pretty sure M. Night believes that no fear is the same thing as having no emotion. Throughout the entirety of this film, characters deliver their lines completely deadpan. When there’s danger, they show no signs of fear, when something humorous happens, they show no signs of joy, when they’re in pain they remain stoic. The characters feel like cheap knockoffs of the Vulcan race from Star Trek. But because the characters are emotionless throughout, the movie itself is flat and lifeless. It feels like a corpse without a pulse. Will Smith looked like he wanted nothing more than to get his paycheck and leave, and Jaden Smith looked irritated and bored (like me, throughout my viewing of this movie).
The writing for this movie was another thing that felt very dry and boring to me. From the beginning of the story, you can pretty much tell where everything is going to end. There are things that are set up in the beginning that are almost glaringly put before you as if to say, “Watch out for this; this’ll be back later.” For example, the Ursa creature they’re carrying on the ship. Jaden Smith is still afraid of the Ursa near the beginning of the film, so you wonder if that will come back towards the end of the movie so Jaden can show some growth. This movie is pretty much a coming of age story meets a road trip story meets Star Trek meets Weekend at Bernie’s (because the leads are corpses on screen). When Jaden runs into trouble, his father, since he blocks out fear, shows no emotion about any of it, and neither does Jaden; the stakes feel low and inconsequential. If the kid’s own father doesn’t care about him, why should I? Honestly, I could care less if these two heartless, soulless characters. If they died, the movie would at least be over quicker.
The only good thing I can say about this movie is that some of the visuals looked fine. There were scenes that were quite visually appealing, and some of the creature designs, while generic, still got the job done. However, the way they use some of these creatures is completely stupid. There’s a scene where Jaden fights a bunch of tiger-creatures in a bird’s nest, trying to save the baby birds (why is he trying to protect birds, when he could just flee and save himself? Who knows?). A short time later, Jaden wanders into a place that is below freezing and passes out. The bird, whose nest he just protected, comes to save Jaden, and sacrifices its own life to bring him back to a warmer place. Why does the bird feel the need to save Jaden at the risk of its own life? Who knows, and honestly, who cares?
(SPOILERS ABOUT ENDING)
The worst part of the movie for me was the ending. Throughout the film, Jaden has shown to be an incompetent kid barely surviving by sheer luck. However, at the beginning of the movie, it’s stated that Jaden was top of his class in the classroom, but in practical lessons he didn’t do as well. Through a horrible De Ex Machina, Jaden realizes at the last moment how to mask his fears, and he becomes this unstoppable killing machine, completely destroying the Ursa (Ursas? I’m not sure if Ursas is plural or singular). It feels completely out of place and looks incredibly stupid.
I’m not sure who this movie was made for. Usually, Will Smith movies are fun, filled with quippy lines, and heart-pounding action. This movie is a boring, pulseless, heartless mess that is less entertaining than watching flowers grow in real time. This might be the worst M. Night movie out there (though it's been years since I watched The Last Airbender). At least The Happening was so laughably bad that I was wholly entertained throughout. I actually would watch The Happening twice in a row if it meant I didn't have to watch this drivel again.
Avoid this movie at all costs.
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