STARRING: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okenedo, and Zoe Kravitz.
DIRECTED BY: M Night Shyamalan
In preparation for this review, I decided to invoke the use of IMDB. When you search for “After Earth” you also get “After Earth 2”. That’s putting the cart before the horse, no? Already at a 5.3 on IMDB, Will Smith’s dreams of a sequel are likely to be shattered. Is the film as bad as some are saying? No. It’s watchable, and mildly entertaining in parts. Did it need a different director? Probably. But is the biggest problem in the film Jaden Smith? Definitely.
The film centers around the idea that in the future, we have destroyed Earth (ecologically, I mean). So, we fled the planet, and landed on another planet. On this plant, there were aliens that lived there that were beastly things (beetle looking creatures) that instantly came after us humans, until we realized that they are blind, and they smell us when we are afraid of them, and that’s how they track us. Enter Will Smith, the first person to capitalize on this, and “ghost”, which is a phenomenon when someone isn’t afraid, and they sneak up on aliens and decapitate them. Will Smith’s name in the film is literally Cypher Rage, because the film isn’t ridiculous enough already, and his son is named Kitai Rage. The Rage Family.
His son Kitai (in an acting stretch, his son is played by Jaden Smith) wants to be a ranger just like his daddy, so he goes out and trains to be one. Unfortunately, he gets held back a year. He can’t ghost. Sadface. Shortly thereafter, Kitai finds himself on a mission with dad, and asteroids happen, and their ship crashlands… on Earth. Cypher is injured, and he must guide his son through advanced technology to a homing beacon that is on the other half of the ship, a few days journey from them. Kitai must suffer through all the ‘new rules’ of earth in order to survive. Considering Kitai has lived his entire life on what looks like a desert planet, he certainly doesn’t seem phased much by trees, grass, mountains, lava, animals, snow, etc. Maybe that’s just Jaden’s acting though… maybe in the script, he is phased, but Jaden Smith knows no emotion.
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t rip into a kid like that. But he is pretty bad. His dad is known for being one of the most charismatic screen presences of our time, and yet Jaden struggles with basic emotion. None of it feels real or honest, least of all his anger. And Shyamalan does nothing to stop this madness either. M Night can barely function anymore as a director. We have so many “cut to black” scenes in this film, it’s maddening. At one point, I wanted to just scream at someone, because instead of seeing a crash, we cut to black and wake up later. But we don’t cut to black at the same time as the character. It’s almost as if he ran out of money, and decided to use black as a way of replacing the scenes he no longer had the money to shoot. Nor did he have the strength to take Jaden aside, and explain to him that he’s not British, and whatever accent he’s trying to put on sounds absolutely ridiculous. Or maybe he did, and Jaden just threatened him with emancipation.
It’s not all bad though, the film does have a decent premise, it is just poorly executed. So kudos to the writer, Gary Whitta, on delivering a pretty solid script. And Will Smith’s performance is good (not great), so there’s something. And the FX team did an excellent job as well. There are some scenes in the film that are exciting (the flying scene, the final fight), so you won’t fully nod off.
Is this film awful? No. Is it pretty bad? Yeah. I think we have our first flop of the summer.
FINAL GRADE: D+