Despite having Will Smith under its banner, After Earth is nothing more than a high-concept afterthought.
Set 1,000 years after Earth has been abandoned due to becoming completely inhospitable to humans (because of humans), a legendary military “ranger,” played by Will Smith, and his son, played by his actual son Jaden Smith, crash-land on Earth while on their way to a training colony.
Critically injured, Will Smith’s character is forced to guide his son across 100km of highly dangerous forest dominated by brutal creatures and a lurking, bloodthirsty alien they were keeping in captivity on the ship. It’s a sci-fi survival story that also has strong elements of father-son bonding that reflects an actual father-son relationship offscreen.
So what went wrong?
I actually disliked the movie for all of the reasons I thought I would like it and vice versa. I thought the movie would have a tough time convincing me that we were really 1,000 years in the future, and I didn’t expect any cool or interesting tech ideas to be presented.
It turns out the strongest elements of the movie (and the only reason to even bother watching it) are the sci-fi mythology concepts presented by this future-human civilization. Their buildings are uniquely different, their weapons are futuristic but also minimalistic, and there are dozens of subtle quirks and nods to an already well-established lore.
This has a lot to do with the hard work by Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan (we’ll get to him later) on the screenplay. Will Smith also did the heavy lifting on the actual story, which I actually found to be refreshing and interesting in theory.
If I can give this movie praise for anything, it’s the world-building and how they gave us a cool sci-fi world to learn more about.
And yet everything I thought would at least be decent in this movie turned out to be abysmal. Obviously, Will Smith had no trouble carrying his character and even some of the minor characters early on. But for whatever reason, Jaden Smith completely fell flat.
I didn’t expect this, especially since I was a big fan of his performance in Karate Kid back in 2010. In that movie, he just came off as an actual kid in a fish-out-of-water story, and his chemistry with Jackie Chan’s “Han” was good.
But here, Jaden showed he still has a lot to learn, especially watching him act alongside his father. None of his actions or decisions really made any sense, and his dialogue was just difficult to listen to.
I mean Attack of the Clones difficult.
His only strong point in the movie was during the third act, when he actually stopped annoying the audience to no end with his painfully stupid decisions and outbursts. I won’t spoil it, but there is a point when his character finally gets interesting, and it’s only when the kid stops talking for a while.
The more I think about it, however, the more I’m willing to give the kid a break and blame the director here. Yes, this movie was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and I think his inability to breathe life into his characters was blatantly transparent in this movie.
Seriously, the screenplay, concepts, and overall story are actually good. I wanted to see a movie about a father and son braving a harsh environment together in an effort to survive. It was predictable and cheesy, yes, but also simple and beautiful in theory.
Unfortunately, I found myself yawning at these characters and waiting for this movie to be over with. It’s just not worth watching.