It’s a well-known fact that Will Smith is one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, as he is a worldwide box office draw and a pretty good actor, considering his two Academy Award nominations. He also hopes that his son, Jaden Smith, follows his footsteps, as they have co-starred together in The Pursuit of Happyness and Jaden has his own box office hit, the remake of The Karate Kid. Will and Jaden Smith are reuniting on screen once again in one of this year’s biggest films, After Earth. Although it seems like the main selling point of this film is to see how this duo works in the science fiction genre, the most intriguing thing about After Earth is not even promoted in the trailers. The film is directed and co-written by M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker who peaked too early in his career and has clearly fallen from grace. His last film was the universally hated adaptation, The Last Airbender, which was basically a sign that Shyamalan has truly lost his way. After Earth felt like a chance for him to redeem himself, but after so many critical failures, there was no way of telling what the quality of this movie would be. Although I can honestly say that it is much better than the abomination that was The Last Airbender, Shyamalan still doesn’t bring much to the table in After Earth, as it is a very uninspired and forgettable summer blockbuster.
After Earth takes place a thousand years after Earth has been abandoned, as a result of our irresponsibility (wow, we haven’t seen a movie like this in a while), and society now lives on a planet called Nova Prime. Although the planet is infested with vicious monsters, the citizens of Nova Prime are protected by the Ranger Corps, who are led by a literally fearless general named Cypher Raige (Will Smith). His son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), wants to become a ranger himself, but seems inadequate under the eyes of his mentors and even his father. Though after being severely traumatized by the death of his sister back when he was younger, he struggles to learn the ways of the Ranger Corps. In order to bond and help his son become stronger, Cypher takes Kitai on one of his missions, but their ship enters an asteroid field that leads them crashing into the last place they want to be: you guessed it, Earth. The crash kills all on board except Cypher and Kitai. Unfortunately, Cypher has broken his legs, and the emergency beacon that can save both of them is in the tail of the ship, which landed far away from where they are. It is up to Kitai to retrieve the beacon and save both of their lives, but he must confront the remaining hostile animals that live on Earth, and a monster that was kept captive on their ship and has escaped. It is the ultimate tale of survival…that has been told many, many times.
It may seem that I’m already too harsh to the movie, but believe me, although After Earth is not nearly as bad as it could have been, it’s extremely disposable. Shyamalan was once called the next Spielberg, but none of his trademark direction is here, for better or worse. The film fails to have its own identity, as it follows predictable beats of a father-and-son story and an exposition-heavy screenplay (also co-written by Gary Whitta) full of hammy dialogue. This can be entertaining when done right, but Shyamalan tries nothing interesting with the screenplay or even his actors. The character of Cypher Raige is intentionally expressionless, but there is almost no range in Will Smith’s execution of the dialogue. Jaden Smith doesn’t do any better here, either, as it becomes quickly evident in the emotional hooks of the movie that he has yet to prove his acting skills.
Now, Shyamalan still could have made this film offensively bad, like possibly throwing in a ridiculous twist ending or self-indulging in his “gift” of storytelling, but After Earth is a very by-the-numbers science fiction thriller with a father-son aspect that has been done much better in other movies. I know that, at the very most, Shyamalan is an ambitious filmmaker, yet as I watched the movie end, I had to wonder what drew him to this project in the first place. The best thing I can say is that I do think the movie is somewhat of a crowd-pleaser, as the average family who ends up seeing this will probably like it no matter what. Though if you’re looking for something to remember at the end of the summer, this is NOT the movie. Go see Star Trek or Fast and Furious. Wait for Man of Steel, if you have to. For a big-budget action flick, After Earth just isn’t worth your time.