Review: After Earth

As I sat in my seat, I felt like I’d already been here before. I’d never been to this particular theater so it couldn’t be that, but there was this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I’d already done this. What could it be? I racked my brain, what movie is this again? The one where Earth is uninhabitable and two people are alone on the planet, one stationary and in charge of communications and the other running around having all the fun? Is this Oblivion? (Which is itself an amalgamation of successful science fiction movies.) Nope, it’s After Earth, the latest motion picture wherein Will Smith tries to convince us that his son is the next version of him.
 
After Earth is a good example of a (somewhat) well-made albeit bad movie. It’s special effects are pretty impressive, and it made me question why the marketing campaign didn’t show off more of the space sequences, which were the highlight of the movie. The creature design for the movie, though not groundbreaking, was also interesting to see, because who hasn’t wondered what snakes will be like in 1000 years? Even the alien Ursa in the film, which appears to be a jumbled ball of teeth and arms (and not a bear), still looks good due to a top-notch effects team. The effects and few sequences within the film work really well, so it’s a shame that stale performances and uninteresting camera work make the entire experience bland.
 
We can all agree that Will Smith is a likeable actor, except after seeing this movie, many might not like him so much anymore. Smith gives a performance as Cypher Raige (probably the best bad character name ever) that could change your perception of him if you pay close enough attention. Will Smith purposefully alienates the audience with his performance in hopes of getting them to connect with Jaden’s character Kitai, and it would have worked if Kitai was even remotely interesting or relatable. Cypher is presented as a hardened war veteran, which just translates to Smith being grumpy and unlikable. Jaden Smith doesn’t appear to be interested in what his character is doing in this film. He’s good at making his character look winded and scared, which he does quite frequently, but beyond that it’s a largely routine performance.
 
All of the posters and trailers for After Earth would have you believe that the Smiths are the only ones that appear in the movie, which is not the case. Zoë Kravitz and Sophie Okonedo appear in roles that are as dull as the rest of the movie and whose only function is to give the illusion of an arc to Will and Jaden’s respective characters. In addition, there are a few other military officers that appear only in an expendable capacity.
 
These poor performances are not entirely the actors fault though, in fairness they’re not given much to work with as After Earth features a sublimely lazy script. So much of the dialogue is pointed and useless that the whole thing might have worked better as a silent movie. Instances in the film where it would appear Cypher is trying to teach Katai a lesson come of as unintentionally hilarious due to awful dialogue that is poorly delivered. My favorite instance of this is when Jaden Smith looks into the camera and screams about how he’s “not a coward,” which pulled me out of the movie due to my laughter and because it played like he was screaming at his own critics.
 
The execution of After Earth‘s derivative story feels like a bad video game. Objectives are presented and met through different levels (literally) while other problems arise giving its story a false sense of depth. There are some interesting sequences as Kitai navigates the planet, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that this movie is boring with no surprises.
 
While his name has been hidden in the promotion of After Earth, M. Night Shymalan is very much the director and co-writer of the movie. Now the go-to punching bag for many, Shymalan is actually a gifted filmmaker in many regards, he just hasn’t done anything of worth in many, many years. Shymalan’s style in his early films, which I genuinely enjoy, would have helped this movie greatly. There are no visual indicators that a gifted filmmaker was behind the camera. Sure, the terrible script and poor performances are prime Shyamalan indicators, but I think there are tons of directors that could have taken this material and turned it into a visual experience that was captivating, beautiful, and interesting (where it sits currently, it is none of these things). An early-in-his-career Shymalan could have made it work, but now it would appear his storytelling spark is just gone.
 
After Earth is the kind of movie that I probably would have loved as a kid, because it’s made for children. I’m not saying if you’re an adult and you liked it that you’re a child, but if someone did like it, chances are they’re a kid. It’s a boring and risk-free film that offers nothing new to the viewer, not even much entertainment.
 
Rating: 4 / 10