Will and Jaden Smith team up in the latest M. Night Shyamalan sci-fi film After Earth. Here, Shyamalan makes his least-interesting film yet, opting for a small-scaled father son drama versus his traditional bag of mysteries and tricks. After Earth is a film that balances steady for the majority of its running time, but quickly loses all hope as it reaches a forced and predictable climax. Will and Jaden Smith do very little to elevate the already lackluster material.
Cypher (Will Smith) and Kitai (Jaden Smith) Raige have crash landed on Earth one thousand years after humans had to evacuate the planet. The two are the only survivors among their ship, with Cypher being severely wounded, forcing him to remain in the ruined ship due to the damage to his legs. His son Kitai must now journey alone across the planet in hopes of finding and activating an emergency beacon.
Cypher is respectably known across the universe as one of the most fearless soldiers ever to have lived. He chooses not to accept fear and instead approaches each and every obstacle with a sense of calm and focus. His son Kitai is the complete opposite, constantly living in fear, especially after witnessing an event as a child that has gone on to change him forever.
Kitai must now be strong for both himself and his father, because if he doesn’t show strength and fearlessness then they will both likely die in a matter of days.
M. Night Shyamalan‘s After Earth is mostly wasted potential. The director hasn’t had a good movie in years, recently churning out garbage like The Last Airbender and The Happening. He’s long been searching for that return to quality — like when he was making films such as Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense and even Signs. Shyamalan is a long way from home with After Earth; arguably the least-feeling Shyamalan film yet.
That works to the film’s advantage in the opening minutes. After Earth quickly becomes an interesting science fiction film that’s full of bold ideas and concepts. The universe that Shyamalan has created isn’t exactly revealed in full, but he gives you a strong sense of the world within a matter of twenty or thirty minutes. This is good and this is especially refreshing for a big-budget studio project.
After Earth gets by on these good graces for a long time too. Will Smith and Jaden Smith don’t exactly stink up the room, but they don’t stand in the way either. They allow for Shyamalan to explore a little longer, before grounding the film on Earth for the remainder of its time.
This is where things turn sour.
Once on Earth, Shyamalan is forced to focus on Will and Jaden Smith. Will is a fine actor and a man that his climbed his way up the acting world without much trouble, but he’s rarely in this film. He’s sidelined almost instantly and goes from giving an actual performance to phoning one in quite literally over a line of communication with his son Jaden.
And Jaden is no Will Smith. As an actor he does a fine job carrying the film for the most part. The problem with Jaden isn’t exactly in his performance, but the character itself. Kitai is a brat of a child and one that I’d quite frankly call a giant pussy. I understand that this is part of the entire point of the film, but he’s almost too far gone. Believing that Jaden’s Kitai has it in him to reach down and find that courage is almost laughable and about as plausible as the entire plot of The Happening.
This is because the writing is extremely poor. We don’t get to see Kitai slowly progress from childhood into manhood and are instead treated to almost an entire film of him learning absolutely nothing and then twenty sudden minutes of him finding absolute clarity and understanding almost exactly what he has to do to defeat this physical enemy and his own internal enemy.
This would have all worked if the writing was up to standards, but it’s not. It’s the type of script that presents ideas loudly and then quiets down for long stretches, only to poke those ideas out again at the end in forced fashion.
After Earth doesn’t exactly feel like a bomb, but more of a misfire in all directions. M. Night Shyamalan for once doesn’t feel like the sole man to blame, nor does Will or even Jaden Smith.
It’s a mixture of flaws that stem from the script and slowly branch out onto the direction and the acting.
There’s still an okay movie to be found in After Earth. Some of the opening act sequences are visually impressive and easy to take in, aside from some of the on-ship crew members’ dialogue. There’s also a general sense of excitement that comes from the film once it lands on the vacant Earth, but that’s all washed away by the time Jaden Smith suddenly must become the most bad ass warrior on the empty rock that we used to call home.
M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t throw in any last minute twists and he not once even tries to explain in detail why humans left Earth, aside from the usual “humans are a shitty species and tend to fuck up everything that they touch” routine. Was it nuclear war or the draining of fossil fuels? Who knows and apparently who cares at this point.
After Earth could have been much better, but it also could have been much worse. As it sits I’d still not suggest venturing out to the cinemas to see it. Rent it someday or wait to catch it on cable TV. M. Night Shyamalan has done much better and Will Smith is barely in this one to consider it his film. This is a Jaden Smith film and because of that fact I’d be inclined to suggest you save it for a later date.
After Earth – 6.5/10