Is this a hit or a miss for M. Night?
About 1,000 years ago something happened on Earth that left the planet unfit for humanity. Now, mankind lives on a planet called Nova Prime. One day, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) returns home to his family after an extended leave of duty. Now that he has returned, Cypher tries to bond with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) and make up for lost time. As a way to try to get more involved with his son, Cypher makes Kitai come along with him on a new mission, but that’s when disaster strikes. With no other choice but to crash land on Planet Earth, Kitai must search this mysterious planet in order to find a beacon to save his father’s life and get them both back home to their home planet.
Just like most of those on the Internet, I was pretty uncertain how I should have felt about After Earth prior to seeing it. The entire marketing campaign including the trailers, posters, TV spots, and online movie clips did nothing to really “wow me” but instead just left me feeling “meh” about the film. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t really have a strong opinion about M. Night Shyamalan. I like some of his films, but don’t really care for others. I honestly think he is a hit or miss filmmaker and when walking into After Earth I truly felt it could go either way. The result oddly enough is somewhere smack dab in the middle.
After Earth is really a father and son drama rather than an action adventure film. Sure, it’s about trying to survive Planet Earth, but that serves almost as the backdrop to the film, itself. The main focus is on the absent father Cypher, who is rather distant from his family due to an incident that occurred while he was on an extended tour of duty. Throughout the film, Cypher is constantly trying to view his son, Kitai in a different light, but can’t seem to get past the event that took place while he was away. (See the next paragraph for spoilers)
Spoilers (While Cypher is away on extended duty, an alien creature attacks his family and the creature kills his daughter. During this event, his son Kitai watches his sister’s death from a far because his mother and sister previously tell him to go into this protective bubble that protected him from being attacked by the creature. The reason why Cypher is having issues is the event besides the obvious loss of his daughter is because of two reasons, one, he wasn’t there to protect his family and two, the only other man in the house hid rather than protect his family. Of course, the second reason is pretty silly and is more just Cypher’s guilt for not being around because Katai was extremely little when this incident occurred.) End Spoilers
While Cypher is trying to deal with the realization of what occurred while away, Kitai, is also still trying to deal with his inner demons about what occurred while trying to win over his father by proving to him that he has what it takes to be a man and save his father while they are stranded on Earth. Most of the film as previously noted is about Cypher and Kitai trying to overcome their past while trying to stay alive to have a future. This is more or less the overall plot of the film with the escape from planet earth being more of the backdrop.
While the idea of the Earth being unfit for human life is briefly touched upon in the film, it doesn’t really matter that much to the central storyline. For those who really want to know, the reason why no life exists on Earth is because of climate changes, but don’t worry there aren’t anymore The Happening references within the film. When Kitai sets out on Earth, he has to survive by sucking on oxygen pods every 24 hours and trying to stay away from the inhabitants of Earth, which consists primarily of hyenas, birds, and various other animals. It should also be made aware that there is a mysterious alien creature that was aboard Cypher and Kitai’s ship that is now running wild on Earth.
While the film does have several action packed sequences including a really cool yet bizarre bird-flying scene, where Kitai’s outfit extends with wings allowing him to jump off a waterfall, the film’s action sequences are few and far between. The film is very slow paced and really serves more as a drama rather than an action adventure that one might think the film is from the marketing campaign. The action sequences while exciting do range from cool to cheesy with majority of the sequences looking extremely fake with bad CGI effects.
While I didn’t have one particular huge issue with the film, it really was a lot of little things that just continued bug me as the film went on. I think the three things really bugged me about the film the most were: Will Smith, the generic elements of the film, and lastly, the film’s resolution.
Just like M. Night, Will Smith is either hit or miss for me. There are some films that I watch him in that I absolutely adore the man as an actor, but then there are other roles that I just want to smack him for being a part of. In this film, his character shows no emotion at all throughout the entire film. While I understand he is suppose to be depressed and feeling guilt, the lack of emotion from him after a while just felt like he didn’t want to be in this film at all. He just seemed bored and really did nothing at all for anyone to remotely care about him as a character. Considering that Smith wrote the story for this film, I was really hoping for a really strong performance but sadly that isn’t the case at all.
As for the actual film, there are just too many moments that you see coming or come off as so incredibly generic that they seemed to be ripped right from other films. There are so many moments when watching this film where you go “Yea, of course that would happen!” It just got to the point near the end of the film where I as an audience member was like this story is just too simple for its own good. It needed more drama in order to be more effective.
Finally, the film’s resolution is really what made me check out. You know whats going to happen in the film’s end from the first 15 minutes of the film and the entire sequence is just anti-climatic with an ending that just feels so incredibly rushed. Katai goes on this long extended journey all alone on Earth, yet when the film closes the movie doesn’t even really address what occurred but instead feels as if both Smith and M. Night didn’t know how to close the film so they just threw together some half assed 2-3 minutes to wrap of the film. It’s always a bad sign when half the theater begins to walk out before the film’s credits begin to roll.
All in all, After Earth is another mixed bag for M. Night. While I didn’t hate the film, it’s a far cry from a great or memorable film. It is one of those movies that have a good central storyline, but its pacing, predictability, and just overall tone hurt it from being a great film. I will still lightly recommend the film, even if it’s just for a matinee showing, but probably more of a DVD rental. While it’s not a great film, it still contains some plenty of enjoyable moments and some good action here and there. I think for those who like M. Night, they will find this film a bit better than his last few films but for those who despise him, their opinions will remain the same. Regardless of which category you fall into, one thing is for sure; no one will come out of After Earth and say, “This film was truly amazing and better than The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable” that my friends is something that I will guarantee.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for After Earth is a 6 out of 10.