Wow. What a complete piece of shit this movie is. If you throw and egotistical movie star, his talentless son, a washed up director, and a metric ton of shitty CGI into a blender, After Earth is the sludge that drips out. The movie may not be as mind numbingly awful as last year’s Battleship, but cast and crew here find a way to achieve new, infuriating levels of pure, unalloyed mediocrity.
Originally conceived by Will Smith as a potential mega blockbuster franchise for his son Jaden, After Earth takes places in universe where Earth has been evacuated due to an environmental catastrophe and the remnants of humanity live on a distant planet known as Nova Prime. The last bastion of humanity is engaged in a conflict with an alien species that literally feeds on human fear. The futuristic society envisioned by Smith and director M. Night Shyamalan appears to be heavily militaristic, with a premium placed on combat service.
Against this backdrop, we’re introduced into Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), the hotshot teenage son of a revered war hero (Will Smith). Kitai has all of the physical characteristics necessary to follow in his father’s footsteps but none of the temperament. It turns out that Kitai’s father, Cypher, has developed the rare ability to completely suppress all fear, essentially making him a cross between a Vulcan and Jedi. It’s a useful ability when pitted against an invading species that can only see fear pheromones. Kitai, like most teenagers, lacks the ability to control his emotions, making him something of a liability.
The father-son unit head out on galactic patrol with a full crew. However, their ship crash lands on Earth and everyone is killed except for Cypher, who suffers two broken legs, and Kitai. Unable to move from the ship’s destroyed ship’s command center, Cypher tasks his son with finding the ship’s emergency beacon in the wilderness of Earth.
And you can see where this is going. Jaden Smith, the inexperienced and unexceptional offspring of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, gets the biggest role in a summer blockbuster budgeted at over 130 million dollars. What a colossal waste of money.
To be fair Jaden isn’t the worst teenage actor to ever grace the silver screen. He’s actually better than many of the young actors George Lucas cast in the Star Wars prequels. However, it’s no coincidence that most actors don’t hit their stride until they’re at least in their mid-thirties. Good acting requires years of experience and some level of emotional maturation. It’s only the rare kid that turns out to be as talented as say Jodie Foster.
Jaden Smith is simply an average kid regardless of what his parents think. I don’t fault him for his cringe-inducing performance here, but that doesn’t make After Earth any easier to watch. Jaden is tasked with carrying the entire production on his shoulders—something most A-list actors couldn’t pull off—and, to be honest, the project was doomed as soon as the filmmakers decided the central performance would go to a teenager.
However, even a veteran talent couldn’t have saved this picture. After Earth is too light on conflict to be an engaging action picture and too light on ideas to be an effective science fiction movie. The point of After Earth isn’t to explore the human condition or pontificate about the scientific marvels the future holds for humanity, it’s to showcase Jaden Smith as a sci-fi action star like his pop.
The picture lacks depth. Jaden is required to run from one set piece to another, engaging in battle against poorly rendered CG monstrosities. Meanwhile, Will Smith sits back on a soundstage a furrows his brow.
After Earth is simply a mediocre movie. The story is linear, the dialogue is stilted, the performances are weak, and the multi-million dollar action sequences are surprisingly ho-hum. Part of the blame for movie’s weakness should be laid on the Smiths for attempting to pass their son off as an action star, but much of the burden should rest on the shoulders of M. Night Shyamalan. He constructed a very poor vehicle for the flick’s would-be star. Shyamalan hasn’t directed a worthwhile movie in over a decade at this point, and hopefully, After Earth will be the final nail in this hack’s coffin.