11 June 2013


The last on-screen collaboration between Will Smith and his son Jaden was 2006's The Pursuit of Happyness, an uplifting family drama that served to introduce Jaden to the world, while giving the elder Smith an outlet for his more dramatic impulses as an actor. Smith Sr picked up an Oscar nomination, while Jaden starred in the remake of The Karate Kid. Apparently the only way to make Jaden a bigger star was to make After Earth.

Thousands of years in the future, Kitai Raige bristles in the shadow of his famous dad, a fearless general who leads a human colony's fight against alien predators. In the name of bonding, the general takes his son on what should be a routine training mission, that ends with a devastating crash landing on the uninhabited Earth. Our home planet is now the most dangerous environment imaginable, and Kitai is forced to undertake a deadly mission for a crucial homing beacon, in order to save his own life, and that of his injured father.

The most tragic thing about After Earth is Jaden Smith's miscasting in the lead role, in a vehicle that seems purpose-built to show off his movie star potential. For large chunks of the film, he's the only relatable presence on-screen, amidst an unforgiving forest environment. It's not to say that he's a terrible actor, or that he'll never be any better than he is here, but he still feels less likeable than some of the exaggerated future animals. I've said in the past that he doesn't have the charm and charisma that made his father a star, but he gets away with it in this one because Will Smith doesn't bring that either.

As General Cypher Raige, (no, REALLY) he's required to clench his buttocks for most of the film, frowning and scowling at just about everything. It's a bit like casting Will Smith as Spock, really. He never cracks a smile, and somehow comes off as even more miscast than his son. As mentioned, the whole thing is essentially a big sci-fi-inflected passing of the torch to Jaden, but his story credit brings up other issues of interest. As compared to Tom Cruise or John Travolta, Smith seems to have been more on the down-low (steady now) in the Church of Scientology, until this film embedded certain values and teachings in its plot.

But quite aside from probing the Smith family's personal lives, this film fails because it's as dull and unengaging a sci-fi actioner as you can get on this budget. The CGI is below par, none of the action setpieces are able to raise your heartbeat, and Kitai is basically too dumb to live at certain points. He spends most of his time unconsciously looking for the loosest possible reaction to the instruction, "Do exactly what I say." For instance, when he faces a horde of rabid baboons, he's told to stand still and hold his ground. Instead, he shits himself and bungs a rock at one of them. Hilarity ensues. The effect is like watching Cypher play a particularly unengaging video game, on a faulty controller.

Hey, who's that standing in the back? Get out here, you! Oh, look who it is- M. Night Shyamalan directed this movie! Evidently, somebody thought that they could keep his involvement quiet by putting the Smiths front-and-centre, but Shyamalan's involvement actually explains a little more about what went wrong here. The graceless exposition, the humourless script and the deadpan tone of the actors' performances are all recognisable tics from the director's post-Unbreakable canon. On the grand scale of things, After Earth is better than any of his films since The Village, but I think the enjoyable ineptitude of a movie like The Happening would have been preferable to this morass of dullery.

There's really not much in the way of good things to say about After Earth, but it's not outright hateful. Instead, the whole thing about Spock seems to cover quite a few of its other failings. I like Spock in Star Trek- I like watching him as a character, how he behaves and interacts with others. I wouldn't necessarily want to watch a movie that he wrote and directed, with his subdued emotions and humourless approach. The result is the kind of film that left me wondering why, in thousands of years, the state of leg medicine is so woefully downgraded in comparison to the massive advances in space exploration. You can say what you like about Shyamalan, or the Smiths, but won't somebody think of the leg medicine?!

After Earth is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen After Earth, why not share your comments below? Why isn't Shyamalan's name on this? Well...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Anonymous said...

Good review Mark. It could have been way, way better, but I can’t say that I left this movie angry and enraged. Just a very big “whatever”.

Mark said...

Yep, that's about the size of it. I didn't hate it, but it didn't engage me enough to stop me wondering about the goddamn leg medicine. Cheers for the comment!