Will Smith is considered one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, while writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has not been able to prove himself worthy of praise since around 2002 or so. So it’s a tad strange that Smith would entrust his latest attempt at a blockbuster, After Earth, to a man who brings so much baggage to the table.
But hubris doesn’t seem to be in short supply for Smith with this film, as he not only is credited with the story idea for the film but also continues his quest to make his son, Jaden, a star.
That’s right, despite what you might think, After Earth is a Jaden Smith vehicle, not a Will Smith one. The two star as, naturally, father and son who find themselves stranded on Earth 1,000 years in the future or so, long after the planet has been abandoned by the human race.
The film is riddled with many problems, but the biggest issue has to be the lack of a compelling story.
The elder Smith is Cypher, a military bigwig whose missions keep him far from home most of the time. Smith the younger is Kitai, who yearns to become a soldier in order to become closer to his father.
Both are put to the test after their spaceship crash-lands on Earth. With Cypher injured, Kitai is forced to embark on a long journey to activate a beacon that would bring help. Along the way, he battles the elements, animals that have evolved since the humans’ departure, and an unknown creature that their ship was transporting.
The film is riddled with many problems, but the biggest issue has to be the lack of a compelling story. Shyamalan and company act as if the world the film inhabits is well-known to moviegoers, never bothering to answer even basic questions. Want to know where exactly humans now call home, why they had to leave Earth in the first place or what’s happened on the planet since they left? Don’t look for answers here.
A father-son adventure is one thing, but with Will Smith sidelined for most of the film, it’s left up to Jaden to carry the film’s action scenes, something he can’t quite do. Whether it’s because of his lack of skills or Shyamalan’s staging, most of the scenes come off as flat at best and laughable at worst.
Neither character is particularly likable, but of greater importance is that they both speak with accents so distracting that it’s hard to pay attention to what they’re actually saying. It's hard to pin it down to a particular region, but the most infuriating aspect is that neither pronounces the letter R when they speak, making it seem as if you were listening to a couple of 2-year-olds talking to each other.
Finally, the level of the film’s CGI is nowhere near the standard for a big-budget theatrical release. Although acting against a green screen is a given for this type of film, it should never be as obvious as it is at multiple points here. Even the rare success is undercut by something flimsy soon thereafter, leaving you with a groan instead of a wow.
Will Smith’s ego has hurt him before, but this could just be the beginning of the end for him as an A-list movie star. After Earth combines a questionable choice of writer/director, a bad story, uninteresting characters and horrendous special effects, making it a debacle from beginning to end.