After Earth Review
Although After Earth is not M. Night Shyamalan’s lowest point, it’s definitely down there.
M. Night Shyamalan was once one of the most promising directors in Hollywood. Whenever his name popped up in a new project, we would be there to see what he had brought to the table next. Then he released The Village, and from there his career simply descended into the worst place for a director to find oneself in. The Last Airbender happened, and then it became clear that there were few places that Shyamalan could go from there. However, Shyamalan apparently still has some tricks up his sleeves since he now has a new sci-fi collaboration with Will Smith. With that in mind, is After Earth M. Night Shyamalan’s chance for redemption?
In the near future, humanity is plagued by an environmental cataclysm and global warming, in which the human race must relocate to an exoplanet named Nova Prime. A millennium later, humanity is at war with a savage alien species known as the S’krell. General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is the leader of the Ranger Corps, a peacekeeping organization formed to defend humanity from these alien infestations. He is known for his ability to “ghost,” or shield his fear and emotion from the Ursas, aliens who can sense such feelings. He soon announces his retirement to his family, but he also makes a decision to take his estranged son Kitai (Jaden Smith) on one last voyage before his retirement. During the three-day trip, their ship encounters a debris field, and subsequently an asteroid damages their aircraft. This causes them to crash on Earth, now a quarantined planet. Kitai and Cypher are the only survivors, although Cypher’s legs were broken in the crash. With the situation at hand, Cypher then asks his son to retrieve a beacon from the tail end of the ship – incidentally severed and located many miles from the crash site – so that they can be rescued.
I may be judging After Earth more harshly than others, but in all honesty, I absolutely hated this film. While not exactly an egregious experience in comparison with other bad films, I just found it to be painfully boring and almost pointless. Quite frankly, the journey that this father and son take in After Earth is simply uninteresting. It doesn’t help that their personalities are poorly developed, so not only did I find it difficult to care about what was going on, the characters are tough to invest oneself in.
The story has many problems; the premise of a father-son survival story is simple enough, but After Earth takes itself too seriously. It has an overly dramatic tone, and the added element of environmental issues is shamefully unexplored in After Earth. Hint to writers: never integrate major themes such as environmental awareness if you are not going to take advantage of them in the thematic context of your story. I was also let down by the fact that the relationship between Will and Jaden Smith’s characters doesn’t find any true resolution, nor does the progression of their story arc feel natural in any way. Their emotional arc felt contrived to me, so this of course contributes to the uninteresting nature of After Earth as a whole. Simply, the story of After Earth is excruciatingly boring, uninteresting, poorly structured and there are even many plot points that don’t make sense.
Will Smith may be the top-billed actor in After Earth, but his son Jaden is the true star. It’s a shame that this is the case, for his performance is terrible. Jaden Smith simply lacks the charisma and likeable nature that made his father a star back in the 1990s. Perhaps he is a better actor than I give him credit for – his performance in the Karate Kid remake was pretty good – but in After Earth he overplays his character’s emotional struggles and ultimately came off as annoying to me. Other than that, I see his presence in this film as more of a business deal to push him as an upcoming star – after all, how many films has he been in which his father was not a co-star or producer? Speaking of which, Will Smith’s performance in After Earth also disappointed me. Not that he is bad, it’s just that he portrays his character’s stoicism all too well. He plays his character so well that he ends up being as boring to watch as the film itself, which is in my opinion the wrong way to approach that sort of role.
I wish I could say that the visual effects of After Earth saved the experience, but they did not work for me. There are certainly well-composed shots, though, for the cinematography is clean enough to behold on the silver screen. This film is especially pretty in scenes set inside practical environments, particularly in the forest sequences. Nonetheless, when there is CGI on display it is very apparent that it was computer-generated imagery, rendering such shots unbelievable. The digital beasts in After Earth are no less unconvincing either – the whole time I wished that the team behind Life of Pi could have done the visual effects for the animals.
This was not my most painful cinematic experience of all-time, and neither was it worse than the trainwreck that was The Last Airbender. Even so, once again M. Night Shyamalan has seriously let me down. If After Earth is an indication of anything, it’s that Shyamalan needs to stop making these ambitious blockbuster films. Should he return to his personal, smaller budget style of filmmaking that made him famous with The Sixth Sense and Signs, then perhaps he could turn his career around. However, until that time comes we are stuck watching dreck like After Earth, one of the most boring, pointless sci-fi films I have ever seen.