After a rather long break from the genre, Will Smith will be returning to the silver screen this summer in After Earth.
After Earth looks solid enough. The aesthetics are nice; the near-organic look of Jaden Smith's outfit and weapon, combined with the Apple-ish free-floating displays and what appears to be either a robot or a small gunship firing some sort of energy weapon (at 1:48) make the point that yes, this is a scifi film. But the natural scenery looks good, too, and that's just as important. It feels, from an admittedly small sample, that this is going to be as much a spectacle as a story, and in that case getting good locations is so key. Would anyone have sat through ten hours of Lord of the Rings if Middle Earth looked like a one-lot sound stage?
As far as the actors, well, it looks like there's only two of them who really matter. Jaden Smith, who looks like he's going to be carrying most of the film on his lonesome, did good work in Karate Kid. When he's not being a mini-Will Smith circa Fresh Prince, he can hit a surprisingly wide range. Will, meanwhile, looks like he has a nice gravitas to him this time around. It's sort of reminiscent of his work in Ali and I Am Legend, and it's nice to see it on display here. It feels appropriate. And the 'youth cut off from technology and lost in the wilderness' theme is a classic for good reason; it works. If Jaden can sell his character's isolation, fear and determination, and I'm willing to lay at least even odds he can, then this could be a solid outing for both Smiths.
The only thing that really gives me pause here is the involvement of M. Night Shyamalan. The guy hasn't exactly been on a hot streak lately. While I've heard mixed reviews of Devil, looking back before that makes for bleak reading; The Last Airbender, The Happening, Lady in the Water. The Village was decent enough, but he hasn't had a real success since Signs, and that was a decade ago. Hopefully he's learned something from his failures. I'd like to say nobody would trust him to work with Will Smith if he didn't have some idea what he was doing, but Will's inclusion isn't necessarily an ironclad guarantee. We all remember the theatrical ending to I Am Legend, after all.
Also, I'm calling it right now; Will Smith dies before Jaden is rescued. And I wouldn't even be surprised if that voiceover was a recording he made for his son just before he kicks it from his injuries.