This is a hard movie to rate. It was – at parts – hard to watch as well. The basics: Will Smith plays a stoic Ranger commander who crash lands on Earth 1,000 years after humanity ruined it with his young estranged son (played by his real son Jaden Smith) that has recently failed to become a Ranger. Without giving too much away in the film, everything on the planet is designed to kill humans, there is a creature released because of the crash that is especially adept at killing humans. The son has to listen to the father and a host of past issues come out during the trek to find help.
This is one of those movies where the pieces of a great saga were on the table but the key players – director, writers, and actors – just didn’t quite get all out of it that they could have. With the subject matter of humanity’s self-destruction, father-son dynamics, and survival – you couldn’t ask for a better set up. You could play off the needs of humanity vs. the needs of a son, play the guilt of a leader saving his people vs. saving his son. Teachability of a son, the desire of a son to please his dad no matter how hard of a man he may be. Heck, throw in the idea of the “Establishment” keeping Earth off-limits for some sinister reason.
Unfortunately, none of these angles were really pursued or developed. Even the main thrust of the movie – which is the strained relationship between a dad and his son – never really takes off. It’s like the director/writers were confused as to what kind of movie they wanted to make. An action/suspense sci-fi movie OR a relationship movie with the sci-fi stuff as the background. It felt like they decided to straddle the middle ground between the two and the result was…average.
Will Smith delivers a good performance but you sort of expect that. Can you remember a movie where Will Smith hasn’t delivered? (Wild Wild West – but that thing was destined for failure from the outset. And every actor is allowed a bomb of a movie.)
It’s Jaden Smith’s performance that makes the film hard to rate and watch. One minute he is a stoic cadet trying to follow in the footsteps of his dad, the next he is a panicked kid that has no business being on the plane in the first place. Is he an angry kid trying to find his way or a sensitive kid needing to grow up a bit? The performance is awkward which is surprising given his last two outings (The Karate Kid and The Pursuit of Happyness) were outstanding. It’s not the worse child actor performance ever (kudos to Dakato Fanning in War of the Worlds) but it’s not his best work.
This story had so much potential – I was expecting more and wanting more. There is a great scene with the father who tells the son – “Fear is foolishness. It’s a choice. Fear is being consumed by something that isn’t real in the moment. Danger is real. But fear is a choice.”
It’s a great line and I wish the director/writers had used that line as their ‘theme’ for the whole movie and played that theme out in all of the relationships that were on the screen – the husband/wife, brother/sister, father/son.
But it never materialized.
It’s a decent movie. You won’t feel like it’s a waste a time but you’ll also be frustrated that it wasn’t so much more.