Ever since I started reviewing the mockbusters of big budget movies, I’ve gone back and forth on what is fair in terms of judging them based on their mainstream source material. On the one hand, I think any movie should be enjoyed purely on its own merits, and yet, I can’t help but view these movies in the context of how good or bad the originals were. For instance, the first mockbuster I ever reviewed, Age of the Hobbits, was in the abstract merely decent, but when compared to the disastrously boring Hobbit film upon which it was so very loosely based, I found myself enjoying it much more than I might have otherwise. Today I feel like I’ve come full circle, having just watched AE: Apocalypse Earth, the Asylum knockoff of M. Night Shayamalan’s After Earth, which on its own is nothing special, but next to the worst sci-fi movie in decades is nothing short of a masterpiece.
AE: Apocalypse Earth begins with a segment of the human race escaping the planet after losing a war against alien invaders, in search of a new home in a ragtag fleet of ark ships. With the crews in suspended animation, the ships go mysteriously off course and land on a hostile alien world where the survivors must struggle to fight against an invisible alien menace. I say this is a mockbuster of After Earth, and clearly it is with its forest locale and opening scene of our hero awakening with a breathing apparatus on a crashing space ship, but thankfully the film is smart enough to steal from some much better movies as well to concoct its weird Frankenstein monster of a plot, so much so that it might ironically qualify as a mockbuster of Oblivion in its own right just by being so derivative without that fact deterring from the entertainment value.
After Earth is only the starting point. Once we establish the setting, we get a clear nod to Predator with the invisible enemies, and then half way through a female alien character is introduced as a romantic foil that might as well be the cat-girl from Avatar, except with naturally camouflaged skin instead of blue fur. Another race of shamanistic aliens are the spitting image of the albino tribe from the opening scene of Star Trek Into Darkness, and just when you’re thinking this might be a coincidence, we get introduced to a polite humanoid android that clearly serves as a poor man’s Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. And we even get some Planet Of The Apes thrown in there too, which is technically a spoiler, but if you don’t figure that out in the first five minutes of this movie, chances are you’re one of the people who actually picked this up thinking it was After Earth, which means you’re stupid enough not only to make this mistake, but also to want to see After Earth in the first place.
The acting and character development are actually much better than you would think considering the two main leads are played by Adrian Paul and Richard Grieco, who as I’ve pointed out on this blog before are not exactly at the pinnacle of the craft. Paul starts off as wooden as he always does, but playing a hardbitten commando type, it mostly works, and Grieco brings a mercurial darkness to his role as the no-nonsense captain that makes you constantly question where he’s going to end up on the scale of good guy or bad guy. The stand out is Bali Rodriguez as the alien-ess Lea, in what IMDB remarkably notes as her only film credit. She is instantly lovable and engaging as the mysterious wood nymph-esque love interest, and brings a vulnerability to the role that you rarely see in movies as unsubtle as this one, which makes her incredibly endearing whenever she’s on screen. Yes, admittedly the fact that she spends the entirety of the movie in a ridiculously skimpy outfit that puts Mystique from X-Men to shame doesn’t hurt, but it’s a testament to her performance that this is only icing on the cake, and was not necessary to my enjoyment of the character.
My only real problem with the movie is the lack of resolution. I'm going to go ahead and spoil the end here, so if you care, stop reading now. Actually, I'm just making the thing that should be obvious explicit, which is that by the end we discover that this isn't an alien world, but rather Earth in the far future, complete with a famous landmark to hammer the point home, even though we saw it partially destroyed in Asylum's Bigfoot, which I assume takes place in the same universe as this one. Its not that its bad even though it is extremely predictable, but it seems like there should have been more than this. We never find out what the invisible people were or what they wanted the humans for save for a few vague references to an interest in fertility and hybridization, and I almost get the feeling there was a twist or two left on the cutting room floor to make this more simple and streamlined. Low budget escapist fun is fine, but rarely do I see as much story potential in an Asylum movie as this one, enough that I'm actually disappointed that they didn't explore it.
For my own edification, here is how I would have done it. Have the Planet Of The Apes “It's Earth” reveal earlier on, and then reveal that the invisible people are actually not the descendants of the alien invaders as implied but rather pure blooded humans. The albino and camouflaged skinned “aliens” revealed to be mutated humans in the actual movie would instead be alien human hybrids created after the alien invasion gave way to a relatively peaceful co-existence. At some point, a fascist purity obsessed human revolt overthrew the alien/human confederacy, stole their technology, and are now perpetrating a pogrom against all hybrids. This way, you have the revolution that the main characters were so quick to go back to becoming the enemy, and our heroes fighting alongside the children of their former enemies.
Come to think of it, there's really nothing in the movie that precludes any of this from being true, as much of it was just not explored. No doubt this will be the plot of the sequel, which will of course never be made. Still, just the fact that a movie made by the Asylum could actually be thought provoking enough to inspire me to want to make it better rather than give up on it entirely is an accomplishment this studio rarely achieves, not since Battle Dogs in my estimation. Can't say I'm exactly holding out hope for the next one of these, the Pacific Rim knock-off hilariously titled Atlantic Rim, even though the trailer makes it look better than it probably has any right to be. But here, I'll take a tolerable and mostly entertaining Asylum movie whenever I can get it.
Oh and I almost forgot, while doing research for this review and looking up the filmography of the movie's awesomely named director Thunder Levin, I discovered two things of interest. One, he was also the director of American Warships, of which AE: Apocalypse Earth is a vast improvement. And Two, his next movie is called Sharknado, about a tornado filled with sharks. This is a thing that will happen very soon. I cannot wait for this.
|This will soon be a thing!|