An abysmal film lacking in anything that anyone not a member of the Will Smith household would want to see, After Earth would be a direct-to-DVD film if it didn’t happen to star the aforementioned Smith and his son, Jaden. Oh, and if it didn’t somehow cost millions upon millions of dollars, even though there’s nothing except the older Smith’s salary to justify that budget. This is a worthless, soulless excuse of a movie and I pity anyone — and I include myself — who had to sit through it.
After Earth is set in the future, which has seen humans flee from Earth, aliens existing to kill us, and a whole lot of other nonsense that the film spews at us over the first ten minutes, which is essentially pure exposition. There are warriors led by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) — yes, that’s his actual, legitimate, no-jokes-allowed, name — who keep intergalactic peace and kill the aliens. Cypher’s son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is trying to join the ranks of his father, but can’t quite pass all of the tests required.
For a father-son bonding trip, which was supposed to be a routine mission, Cypher takes Kitai with him. Cypher is going to retire soon, because someone saw a “one last job” movie and thought putting that in here would raise the stakes. Their ship winds up getting caught in an asteroid shower which forces a crash landing on Earth. Of all the planets out there, we had to go back on Earth, a thousand years after we abandoned it. Really, it’s only undergone some superficial changes.
Everyone else aboard this ship dies. The means of communication winds up a few days’ journey away from the crash site (somehow). There was an alien on-board that is now loose. And — I’ll quote Cypher here — “everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans.” That’s how evolution works, right? Completely remove something from the environment and over 1000 years everything on the planet will evolve to kill that thing that is no longer an issue. Oh, and that’s not even true, as Kitai winds up encountering as many things that don’t want to kill him as do.
The rest of the film works like this: Kitai has to traverse Earth while Cypher watches him and guides him thanks to magical cameras that follow him wherever he goes. Kitai also has a limited number of oxygen capsules, so he has to do this in a limited period of time. He gets to prove himself to his father and everyone else, which is basically exactly what Jaden Smith is doing by trying to carry this movie. Will takes a back seat so his son can do most of the work. This was the film’s first mistake.
Jaden Smith has acted on and off for a while now, but this is his first true leading role. He has to carry the whole film and he’s not up to the task. He can’t deliver the dialogue without sounding foolish, he doesn’t look like he can do the action scenes, and he has maybe one facial expression — and that’s pushing it — throughout the whole film. Will Smith’s trademark charisma is a non-factor; Will is letting his son have all of stardom, and this is a gamble that doesn’t pay off.
With Jaden Smith not being able to carry the film — even though absolutely everything is being done to ensure that he can — we have to turn to other places, and After Earth doesn’t hold up in those areas, either. After all of the exposition we get right off the bat, one might think the story will eventually have at least some of that matter. It doesn’t. It’s literally just about the two Smiths on this planet. The plot wastes our time with all of this nonsense and then doesn’t even make it factor in.
The dialogue is painful to listen to, although that’s partly on the actors who put such little emotion into it that you might think they were trying to dub a video game released in 1998. The special effects would attest to that, as they look terrible, as if they, too, were trying to mimic 1998’s CGI. Earth isn’t even that much different from what we know. There are monkeys and birds and lots and lots of trees. For some reason, most of the planet becomes incredibly cold at night, so Kitai has to find specific hot spots. How the vegetation survives is beyond me.
There’s no heart, there’s no emotion, there’s no reason to have a vested interest in anything that happens, and the action isn’t even good or inventive enough to hold our attention. Even in the end, when emotion is supposed to play a strong role, there’s a complete lack of, really, anything. The director is M. Night Shayamalan, and this is easily his worst film to-date. Yes, this is significantly worse than The Last Airbender. Is there a worse criticism than that?
After Earth is a painful and dreadful film, one that has nothing redeeming and contains nothing that is even remotely interesting enough to warrant a watch. It puts most of its eggs in the Jaden Smith basket, and he’s so awful in this that you have to wonder if this could kill his career before it really begins. The script is garbage, the acting is horrible, the special effects are lackluster, and there’s nothing to hold onto and no reason to care about anything.