Not too long ago director M. Night Shyamalan was considered one of the best up and coming directors. He made a very chilling film with The Sixth Sense, managed to keep up the quality with his second film Unbreakable then did a nice job exploring sci-fi genre with Signs. Ever since then his films have consistently gotten worse and worse. With the exception of Devil, which he wrote and I thought was decent, everything from The Village to The Last Airbender has been completely awful. Now he’s teaming up with Will Smith, one of the most charismatic actors around, and hoping to get back on the right track.
A thousand years into the future after earth was attacked by creatures from a different planet, humans now settle on a different planet called Nova Prime. General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has returned home from a long tour of duty to hopefully bond with his estranged family including his son Kitai (Jaden Smith). Cypher takes his son with him on a mission to get in some quality time and try to bond with him. Their ship runs into an asteroid storm and crash lands on Earth leaving only Cypher and Kitai as survivors. With Cypher injured Kitai must find the tail end of the ship, which broke off during the crash, to retrieve a rescue beacon that will help them get home or else they will die.
The first twenty minutes of this film are pretty awful, I’m just going to go ahead and put that out there. Shyamalan tries to set up all these details about the future and how everything is but ultimately it’s useless because the film doesn’t use any of that once it becomes a film about a father and son trying to survive. Once they crash land on Earth is where the film does start to pick up and actually get better. Only problem once they get to Earth is that Jaden takes over ninety percent of the film leaving Will on the sidelines to narrate. This would have been fine if Jaden were a competent actor but he still hasn’t reached that level of skill quite yet.
Will on the other hand gives one of his more restrained performances practically not giving any emotion whatsoever. His performance is fine but it would have helped somewhat had he put a little more into it. This only proves further more than Shyamalan just doesn’t know how to direct his actors very well. Aside from Will and Jaden there aren’t too many other characters here. A few pop up every now and again but this is truly Will and Jaden’s film, especially Jaden.
For this to be a science fiction film it’s pretty straight forward which is both good and bad. It’s good that the story doesn’t get overly complicated or convoluted but it also could have used a little more to it. In the end the story feels too hollow and seems like it’s missing something. There is a subplot that involves flashbacks to when Kitai is younger but it always feels awkward when a flashback comes in and even though the flashbacks do tie in with the end of the film it really felt like that part of the story could have been taken out.
All of the set pieces here are quite nice and most of the special effects work, although there are times where they look a little too cartoony. The pace works to the films advantage. Running only about an hour and forty minutes the films moves along smoothly but it does drag a couple of times here and there. This is being advertised as a big summer action movie but there really isn’t a whole lot of action throughout. There are a few action sequences that are entertaining but there’s just not enough of them to sustain for the entire film.
After Earth does provide a few good scenes and another good performance from Will Smith. It would have helped if Jaden’s performance was better and Shyamalan was able to put together a better story and get some better performances out of his actors. It’s not terrible but it’s certainly not good either.