M. Night Shyamalan and Will Smith team up with Smith’s son Jaden in the big-budget, special effects-driven, summer sci-fi movie After Earth. Trailers of the film promise action, intrigue, monsters, and great peril. However, appearances can be deceiving. Poor writing, poor direction, and struggling performances make After Earth a movie best seen as a rental.
After Earth is a lesson on movie clichés. Cliché number one: Cypher (Will Smith) and Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) are a father and son who are nearly estranged. Cypher is a general in a military division know as the United Ranger Corps, and Kitai is desperate to gain his approval. With a nudge from his wife, Cypher decides to take his son with him on his LAST MISSION before retiring to get in some male bonding time. Cliché number two: an “unexpected” event happens and it’s suddenly our duo against the world. Their ship crash lands on Earth – but this isn’t the Earth we know. Humanity was forced to leave Earth 1,000 years ago after the environment became uninhabitable. Humans fled to Nova Prime, only to find it belonged to aliens (called the Skrel) who didn’t like the human invasion. They released monsters that hunt humans solely by sensing their fear pheromones. Some rangers have learned to turn off their fear, making them great ‘invisible’ warriors – Cypher Raige being the baddest of them all. Cliché number three: father and son learn to respect each other as the son becomes a man. That is, if you can call a 13-year-old boy a man. Granted, his father is severely wounded, the rest of the crew is dead, and their only chance to send a cry for help is over one hundred kilometers away in the tail of the spaceship, leaving our young hero to basically fend for himself on a long journey while being hunted by evolved Earth-creatures as well as an alien monster that escaped imprisonment during the crash.
Clichés aside, the plot is predictable and heavily foreshadowed. It feels like a mash-up of several movies you’ve seen before. Many films fall victim to this style of writing, but are able to avoid criticism by being creative and having fantastic dialog paired with fantastic acting. After Earth, unfortunately, has none of these redeeming qualities. The plot crawls painfully forward, replaying the same flashbacks to emphasize their importance; the dialog is drawn out and mostly consists of characters over-explaining the current situation. Surprisingly, for an M. Night Shyamalan movie, there is no twist ending – however desperately the audience hopes for one. Shyamalan directed After Earth, as well as co-wrote the screenplay, but Will Smith gets the credit for the original story. Perhaps Will should just stick to acting?
Performances in After Earth were poor across the board. The actors spend a lot of time on screen all by themselves, and I think it was tough on the young Jaden. If he had better lines to work with and better direction from Shyamalan, then it could have been a home run for him. Will Smith is best when his charisma and charm are allowed to shine through his work, but all of that appeal is withheld as he plays the overbearing military father who… talks… slowly… for… emphasis… and… gravity – minus any actual gravitas.
There are some redeeming qualities in After Earth, chiefly concerning the visual effects, morals, and overall cleanliness of the content. The visuals are stunning, with sweeping views of space and a jungle-like Earth. The creatures are realistic enough not to jostle the suspension of disbelief, regardless of how hard the dialog continually shakes it. While there are a few gory moments (a couple dead bodies and animal/monster violence), there’s no nudity, foul language, adult content, or overly graphic violence. This is a movie that a family with kids over 13 years old could all see together, though the 13-year-olds will undoubtedly have more fun than the adults.
After Earth gets 2.5 stars out of 5.