Spoiler Warning - Many plot points have been discussed in this review
Sounds good, right? A futuristic version of Earth where everything has evolved to be giant killing machines, the idea that this used to be their home planet thousands of years ago, trekking across the great unknown and looking at how the world has changed so drastically.. Well, yes, in theory. But here comes the awful truth; the story merely follows the boy, Kitai, on his journey (both emotional and physical) to retrieve the beacon. Does he grow? Yes. Is he much of a character to begin with? Not really, but at least we get a good back-story. We don't really get the appreciation of the fact that this world was once theirs, we get a glimpse of the world as it became uninhabitable, and as for the animals? We see three resident species, and the most dangerous animal in the whole thing comes from the world that the humans escaped to. It was, quite frankly, disappointing on an intellectual level.
As for the story, it was entertaining. A boy journeys into a big scary jungle for a few days and encounters all sorts of danger and peril. His dad is injured and he has to save him, but he's giving him advice with futuristic gadgetry (which, by the way, was pretty cool and very nicely thought through. Liquid to help you breathe in difficult conditions? Genius). Oh yeah, and an evil fear-smelling creature has escaped and will probably find that boy because he has panic attacks every time he thinks about the amount of danger he is in. There is a lovely human element that is sometimes missed out in other films of the action-type genre, where the main plot is about blowing things up rather than turning into a better person (I realise that this may be more of a sci-fi film, but there was an awful lot of running in it, and the same idea applies anyway).
There was character growth for both protagonists, but Will Smith's character, Cypher, seemed to grow early on, and then suffered an injury that left him boringly chair-bound for the remainder of the film. His facial expressions were great, but lets face it, Will didn't have an awful lot to work with to bring his character to life. Speaking of the characters, they weren't particularly likeable either; they are from a military background, and so they are very rigid, at least to begin with. Jayden's character was very flawed (which did leave room for his growth), and was a little bit dim, to be honest. Characters who tend not to do what you're shouting at them to do, in my book, are ones which you should put in the bin and not look back on. Maybe that's just me.
One other nice thing about the film was the flashbacks that brought the background into perspective. It gave reasons as to why Kitai was so afraid of everything, and how Cypher became a commander in the armed forces. At the beginning, it starts with Kitai in serious trouble, and then flashes back three days. This was really nice as it hooks the viewer from the first scene, making them wonder what happened. The only downfall on that was that the circumstances leading to his predicament weren't quite as thrilling as you imagine them to be.
In all, the film is worth a watch for the idea alone. The creatures were realistic and the landscape was so wildly beautiful that it wasn't hard to believe that this was Earth, untouched for a thousand years. But unfortunately the plot wasn't up to scratch. It felt quite inevitable and could have done with a twist or two to keep us guessing. For that reason, and for the others mentioned above, it gets a 4 out of 10.