Review: After Earth
PLOT: In a future where mankind has had to abandon Earth and has found a new home on a colony called Nova Prime, humanity's greatest warrior, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has just come back from a long tour of duty to be reunited with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith). He takes Kitai with him on a routine training mission, but a deep-space calamity leaves them marooned back on Earth. With both of Cypher's legs broken, it's up to Kitai to find a beacon that will signal their presence. Now, Kitai not only has to navigate the treacherous environment, but he's also being stalked by a dangerous alien from Nova Prime that was on-board the ship when it crashed.
REVIEW: I'll give AFTER EARTH some credit; it's better than M. Night Shyamalan's last couple of movies. It's not as mind-numbingly awful as THE LAST AIRBENDER or as unintentionally funny as THE HAPPENING. At times it actually comes close to being relatively decent movie. Sadly, those moments are all within the first twenty minutes or so before the big crash that sets the plot in motion and sidelines star Will Smith, leaving the film in the hands of his now teenage-son Jaden.
I guess it was inevitable that, after the success of the KARATE KID reboot (which actually wasn't a bad movie) it was only a matter of time before Jaden got a big tent-pole action movie of his own. While Smith is an OK young actor, it can't be forgotten that he's been made into a movie star through his father's mega-stardom, and putting him in an action movie where he's not only the star but virtually the only actor on-screen for 80% of the running time is a big burden for any actor to carry. Will Smith did it fairly well in I AM LEGEND, but he was a seasoned pro by this point- Jaden Smith is not. He's still an OK actor, but he doesn't have much of a personality, and watching him as he tries to navigate a heavily CGI'd Earth (complete with lots of CGI baboons, vultures, mutant snake-birds, etc) is pretty boring.
That said, even if Jaden Smith had been a wonderful actor, I'm still not convinced AFTER EARTH would have really been worth watching. The plot is right out of a video game, and obviously designed with kids in mind, as Smith has to navigate obstacles, creatures, and recharge every so often with an oxygen capsule to stay alive. Wanna bet he starts running out of capsules? The film's major drama comes from whether or not Jaden will be able to “ghost” meaning stop secreting fear pheromones when he comes face-to-face with the alien from Nova Prime as it's the only way the alien can see him. It feels so much like a video-game that I was half expecting a little monitor for fear, and another for life to pop up in the corner of the screen. Luckily, AFTER EARTH never gets quite that bad, but it's still like watching someone else play a video-game for ninety minutes, with little in the way of drama or character development. I get that it's for kids, but I'd bet even kids will find this dull, and the psychobabble about fear being an option is gobbledygook.
Nevertheless, AFTER EARTH does have a few things going for it. The CGI is terrible, but some of the scenery on Earth is nice. The musical score by James Newton Howard is excellent, and Will Smith, while only on-screen here and there, is good in his limited role, although the strange accent everyone uses is a very eccentric (and unnecessary) addition to the film.
So, while it's not as stunningly bad as THE HAPPENING or THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH still isn't a very good film in it's own right. M. Night Shyamalan probably still has a decent film in him somewhere, as he's visually still a solid director and capable of making interesting set pieces, but AFTER EARTH isn't the film that's going to revitalize his career.