Imagine walking into a movie you have average expectations for only to have those same expectations sink beneath average and into disappointment-ville. “After Earth” is one of those movies that prove that acting should not necessarily be a family affair. And while M. Night Shyamalan tries to bring a mixture of emotion, depth, and adventure to the film, the story remains too rigid for it to be considered remotely entertaining. The film is long and arduous to watch, Jaden Smith’s immaturity as an actor awkward to witness.
Kitai (Jaden Smith) is a descendant of humanity living on a planet called Nova Prime one thousand years after humans escape Earth from deadly creatures created for the purpose of killing them. He’s intent on becoming a ranger in order to follow in his father Cypher’s (Will Smith) footsteps but doesn’t get accepted into the ranger program. Basically, Cypher doesn’t try to be close with his son and instead treats him like someone on his team. In order for them to bond more, Cypher invites Kitai to join him on his final mission, which of course ends up being disastrous as they crash land on Earth, Kitai and Cypher the only survivors. Cypher suffers injuries too great to join his son on a mission to rescue the beacon, a communication device that lands on another part of the forest their only hope for being rescued.
Before getting into what didn’t work in the film, it should be fair to mention the well-done and intriguing aspects of it. The layout and development of the landscape is very aesthetically pleasing in its depiction of post-human Earth. The gadgets and adaptable uniforms are very creative and well-thought out as well.
Having laid out the best parts of the film (yes, it’s a short list), the opening narration is incomprehensible because the accents used in the film are unnecessary and sometimes hard to understand. The film sets up an adventure/sci-fi type story with a few attempted emotional story arcs in order to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, these emotional arcs turn into a weakness and end up hindering the story instead of giving it more depth. Why did the father/son duo have to become separated? It’s a question that I keep going back to because my realization is that the movie would have been extremely more interesting (and probably more entertaining) if both Smiths had been in on the action. It might have at least eased the burden of the movie’s slow pacing.
The flashbacks are uncoordinated and give only a little insight as to what happened in the past and why the father/son relationship may be the way it is. Of course, the story doesn’t delve into this aspect of important character development and instead retreats into the safety of fighting large and dangerous creatures. The only real purpose the flashbacks seem to serve is the screen time given to Zoё Kravitz.
Will Smith’s performance as Cypher is underwhelming at best, showing not one ounce of real emotion towards the situation or his son. His surroundings and lack of interaction with anyone may have something to do with it, but it’s not really an excuse given the fact that the audience gets bored of Smith and his rigid portrayal of an unsympathetic father.
Jaden Smith is not a talented actor, and “After Earth” makes that fact glaringly noticeable. Yes, his father’s injury and absence are obviously there to give the spotlight to Jaden, but the younger Smith overacts and his performance might get on your nerves after a while. There are scenes in place which are meant to show his anger, confusion, and peak moments for his development, but they become more of a aggravation as his accent grates on your nerves. It becomes painfully obvious after awhile that Jaden Smith cannot carry a movie alone when a pivotal “I can do this” moment becomes almost cringe-worthy. The young actor overreacts and pushes out tears that receive no sympathy from the audience.
The film’s problem is that it takes itself too seriously, some plot issues are slightly glaring, and it’s a clunky movie that barely makes it to the end intact. It’s also painfully boring and slow moving most of the time, the film only picking up pace when there’s an action sequence, which are few and far between. The CGI is not quite up to the standards we’ve become accustomed to. Although not all the blame should fall on Shyamalan, since the story is by Will Smith, who obviously gives his son a film easy enough to star in while still remaining in the mentor role. But suffice it to say, M. Night Shyamalan has had his hits and misses in the past and “After Earth” definitely (and unfortunately) will be added to his list of misses.