So you may or may not have heard how this After Earth has bombed a wee bit in America. Perhaps that’s too strong a term but it’s a sign that perhaps maybe the former king of the box office Will Smith is running out of steam finally. The worst thing he could have done is to try launching his son’s movie career… oh he’s doing that. Ah well at least he didn’t write his own half arsed story and get hack M. Night Shyamalan to direct… oh he did that too. Actually, it’s not as bad as you think. Kinda.
Legendary future solider Cypher and his distant son Kitai (Will and Jaden Smith respectively, Pursuit Of Happiness) end up crash landing on an abandoned Earth. Having left to a new habitable planet Nova Prime 1000 years ago, the human race has been eradicated by a return of the wilderness. The flight was meant to be a routine training mission to practice fighting techniques on their alien enemy species, the S’krell. As the last two survivors, father and son must team up for Kitai to go on a hunt for a rescue beacon so the pair can go home. At the same time, it’s an impromptu time for the father-son combo to bring up how both Cypher and Kitai have survivor’s guilt after Kitai survived a S’krell attack as a child after his elder sister protected him. Awkward!
Of course, this film is Smith-centric. With the only two notable roles, it should rely on their performances… which fail completely. Big Willy is an unlikeable sod at all times here so you don’t really care for his character, especially since this is a grand departure from his usual massive charisma-based performances. He’s so dour and miserable the entire film it won’t get you interested at all. He hardly smiles even!
You will be forgiven after watching for thinking the movie is an advert for Jaden Smith. Because that’s exactly what After Earth is. Looking through the credits you’ll see that’s all Smith Senior’s big push to get Jaden into the public eye and it’s meant to be a cinematic passing of the torch. Being honest, Jaden’s performance wasn’t terrible at all but he lacks any kind of charisma whatsoever. It’s hard to get behind anyone with this level of dullness. He does stupid kid stuff too instead of listening to his war hero father who know how to get out of these situations and lying to try and impress him. I’m all for teen rebellion and all but when both you and your old mans’ lives are on the line. A bad case of nepotism in an industry ravaged by it.
The lack of logic in this film is beyond. The spaceship crash happens because they fly close to an exploding asteroid field (or something similar) to whit they get badly damaged and when space hop anywhere ASAP. Well with Will Smith giving them prior warning and considering he’s the leader, why not just space hop anyway, just to be on the safe side? Also, even as a future soldier badass, I can’t for the life of me understand why Cypher would want his son to go out of his protecto-sphere in a flashback S’krell attack when his elder sister is being brutally mutilated to try and protect her. It’s all part of typical Shyamalan filmmaking with multiple plotholes in his scripts.
Not that After Earth is ugly to look at. Shyamalan knows what to film at least and there are some lush locales encapsulated perfectly in stunning visuals. You are left wondering where the hell they’ve crashed landed though as within 1000 years not all signs of the human race would be wiped out surely. There are one or two horrendous moments of green screen and CGI which take away any credit however. It’s at the level where I’d confidentially say there are direct to DVD movies better than here. Honestly, there’s a one legged soldier saluting Cypher and you’re left wondering when they’re going to turn off the fuzziness on the images in the background. The fake animals look shocking and at this point you’re left wanting Jaden to be put into a Tiger’s cage. On a starvation day.
Worst of all, the main threat in After Earth is rendered redundant. The idea is that the S’krell sense by fear and Cypher’s ability to “ghost”, or not display fear, made him a war hero as the only one who can take out these alien douches. The problem is, once you’ve seen one, you have nothing to fear because you’ve seen it thus it can’t hunt you. Since you know it’s weapon is it’s own weakness, it can’t hunt you because it doesn’t have other senses like sight and smell. The whole build up to fighting this alien menace is neutered and when it’s payoff slumps out on screen you’re left wondering what was the point.
There are some interesting themes that I would have liked to have explored more. The survivor’s guilt was intriguing at least if a little obvious where it was heading. In fact, I was surprised they didn’t just cast Jada Pinkett Smith as the older sister. I wanted to see more of this future earth since it’s very lazy just to put it in the countryside away from where man was. However with three “ruined Earths” this summer alone, I can’t see this being dug up for where they were going thematically anytime soon.
With After Earth, there’s definitely some interesting ideas here. Sadly they’ve come from a man who is only on the look out to make his son a star, so they’re not explored enough. If you buy into Jaden Smith being a film star after this poor and boring passing of the torch, then more fool you. Better than expected but that’s not saying much.