After humans evacuate Earth for distant world Nova Prime, they encounter a race of aliens known as Ursas that hunt humans by literally smelling their fear. However, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has developed a technique to control his fear, rendering himself invisible to the Ursas. After crash landing on Earth, causing Cypher to break both his legs, his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) must trek through dangerous forests, pursued by an Ursa, in order to reach a distress beacon and save his father.
Cast your mind back to the turn of the millennium and director M. Night Shyamalan was a director on the lips of many after bringing us The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. However, since then he has gone on to make some of the most widely derided films around and has now become somewhat of a laughing stock amongst film-goers and critics alike. Such is the fall of his reputation that barely even notice his name attached to After Earth. Instead, it is very much a Will & Jaden Smith production, although the results are equally as unremarkable.
It’s been almost impossible to escape the Smith Machine over the past couple of months as the two of them have appeared in pretty much everything you watch/read/look at/dream about, showcasing that ‘cool guy’ Smith persona everyone apparently loves so much. Which is odd, as absolutely none of that whatsoever shows up in the film. Will Smith spends the entirety of the film sat in a chair being an emotionless hardass towards his son, which does nothing to endear you to him whatsoever. Equally, Jaden Smith spends much of the time being a whiny little brat, and so you don’t really warm to him either – not the best character traits for your two leading roles. The most touching moment of the whole film comes from a giant eagle, which says it all really.
The actors aren’t helped by their script, either. The whole thing feels like a ‘get from point A to point B and kill some monsters on the way’ computer game, whilst the script is full of cliched monologues and soundbites that seem custom written for the IMDB ‘quotes’ page. And these just take away from the most interesting thing in the film – its setting. Yes it’s on Earth, but it’s an Earth abandoned by humans and reclaimed by animals that have evolved to kill humans. Imagine the possibilities to create interesting evolution of Earth’s creatures and fauna. Except we never really get to see many of them. We see some kind of tiger creature, a jumping snake and the aforementioned massive eagle. But that’s about it. We never really feel that much has changed since the humans left.
After Earth isn’t a complete write off, however. Some of the action sequences, although largely ‘by numbers’, are reasonably exciting, and what we do see of the environment is pretty impressive; we just don’t see enough of it. There are also glimpses throughout the film that suggest Shyamalan clearly wanted to make a different film from what he has done. There are a few moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film, which do make for a darker and more interesting film at times, but it just screams of the director trying to make himself heard over the engine of this Smith created vehicle.
After Earth isn’t really going to harm Shyamalan’s reputation but it’s in no way going to enhance it and the same goes for The Smiths. In fact, this film isn’t really going to do much for anyone. It might provide a bit of mindless entertainment for some for a couple of hours, but expect it to disappear without a trace pretty quickly.