After Earth Reviews
Not a bad movie! This was a great, entertaining, emotionally charged sci-fi flick and I enjoyed every minute of it. I admit I was caught into the M. Night hoopla and expected a twist ending but this one is just a straight forward mainstream adventure flick. One of the final scenes between father and son was near brilliant and almost brought tears to my eyes. The special effects were very well done and some of the monsters and beasts they created were epic in stature and should be looked at as being fun and well done. I guess I just don't understand the expectations people had from this. It seems that people have a real grudge against young entertainers like Jaden Smith but I am not one of them and I encourage you if you love sci-fi to watch this and simply enjoy it.
One thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity's escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind's new home. Legendary General Cypher Raige returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13-year-old son, Kitai. When an asteroid storm damages Cypher and Kitai's craft, they crash-land on a now unfamiliar and dangerous Earth. As his father lies dying in the cockpit, Kitai must trek across the hostile terrain to recover their rescue beacon. His whole life, Kitai has wanted nothing more than to be a soldier like his father. Today, he gets his chance.
The plot is as old as the hills, ye olde coming of age drama between a father and his boy, this one happens to be set 1000 years in the future on a distant planet. Put simply Will Smith ('Cypher Raige'...really? is that space age name cool enough for you Mr Smith?) thinks his boy is a failure for not becoming a space ranger action figure type bloke, so there is much resentment between the two. On a final mission Smith Sr. brings Jr. along for the experience, but they hit a snag midflight with pesky asteroids and are forced to crash land on Earth. Now its up to Smith Jr. to save the day and gain his fathers respect by saving both their lives, can he manage it?! tune in next week folks, same channel, same tim...
Oh and there's that whole planet Earth being made uninhabitable from man made pollution issues and humans having to abandon it...part. Now Earth is some huge wild jungle free from mankind (not any trace at all? really? no ruins?) and has evolved into a ferocious predator filled world that time has forgotten. All that was missing was Doug McClure.
The main problem with this film which I think everyone has mentioned is the fact Jaden Smith is a seriously lacking actor, he clearly has no natural talent for it and comes across wooden, lifeless and amateurish...although he is still young for sure. Its quite clear Smith Sr. is creating a fast food/instant movie star situation with his boy by getting him in big movie roles and trying to force him to the top. Smith Sr. wants this to happen big time in my opinion, I'm sure Smith Jr. does too but I don't think he's actually got the flair or natural ability.
The other issue is Smith Sr. tries to act seriously here, or tries something, not sure what, but it doesn't work. His performance is terrible, verging on B-movie standards. He's suppose to be a by the books, hard lined, emotionless, fearless, stoic military leader who certainly doesn't mollycoddle his son in any way. This means Smith Sr. is basically an unlikable character, not good, but it also means that Smith Jr's goal is to be like his father, an emotionless robot with no soul. This pretty much means that both the lead characters are unlikable and emotion in the film is cold and forced, or so it feels.
At no point did I really care about either of the lead characters, even at the very end, I didn't give a hoot frankly. The human emotion was as plastic looking as the ships interior, and that's pretty darn plastic!. So Smith Sr. sits out all the action in this film and simply sits around looking stern, whilst Smith Jr. is our hero and has the same expression of a goldfish the entire time. Oh he also whines quite a bit too, he's actually a bit annoying.
Smith Sr. gives Jr. this all encompassing speech about what to do and what not to do before sending him on his way. Then literately within the first five minutes of setting off the kid ignores what his father says, gets himself chased by a posse of large killer baboons and finally stung by a poisonous leech, no wonder this kid failed his space cowboy test thing. Luckily they just happen to have the correct antidote for the leech bite so never mind. I did feel sorry for him towards the end though, he reaches the tail end of the ship and finds out he's now gotta climb a huge volcanic mountain on top of it because the flare/beacon thing has no signal! these space age service providers huh sheesh!.
The whole film looks good as do all films these days, the special effects are touch and go, CGI in abundance of course but not the best. The scenic views of Nova Prime are very nice at the start as are all the location shots throughout but props and sets are curiously average looking. As I already said the interior of the spaceship is very odd, its all beige and looks like its been made out of cardboard and plastic, visibly shakes too. What was that carwash brush section that Jaden walks through?? what the hell was that?!, plus all the equipment used and the 'Ursa' egg all looked very poor.
One thing that did spring to mind throughout, why doesn't anyone have any futuristic guns of some kind? surely these space ghosts would carry a gun for emergencies?. It just seems so forced that this accident happens and they are stranded on a prehistoric Earth with only a Predator spear to protect them, trying to make it a desperate primeval survival flick much??. Plus the suits both the Smith boys wear, they are futuristic gizmo's right, don't they at least have an internal temperature control? surely that is an obvious gadget to include when designing?. No oxygen supply, battery pack, extra weapons concealed anywhere etc...pretty useless suit really isn't it, all it did was change colour.
The overall message about us humans is pretty definitive if you ask me, we messed up our own planet to the point that we had to abandon it, we then find another planet and claim it as our own when it clearly belongs to another alien race (or is looked after by another alien race). All this says to me is the human race are in fact like a disease, we are infectious and bad for a planets ecosystem. In this film clearly we have upset another race by invading this planet, why don't we just find another planet?.
Its not all bad, I liked the mystery behind the alien race that unleashes the Ursa, nothing given away there which is fine, I quite liked the Ursa too. I think they captured a futuristic Earth without humans nicely...that's about it. Its a weak survival film really, you're never in any sort of fear about what's gonna happen, you know everyone will be OK, no suspense or real drama, its all very shallow and amazingly rudimentary.
In a sloppy bit of exposition, we're told that humans left planet Earth after we made it too unsustainable. The human race then colonized an alien world except that the indigenous aliens weren't too happy about this. The aliens made a space monster, known as an Ursa, which would track and kill human beings by sniffing out their fear pheromones. Cypher Raige (Will Smith) rises in the ranks of the Ranger corps because he has the unique ability to "ghost." Because the man does not register fear he is able to sneak around the Ursa as if invisible. His relationship with his teenage son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is strained at best. Dad has been gone a long time and has high standards for his boy; the kid has to refer to him as "sir" even at the dinner table. Father and son are traveling through space when their ship crash-lands on good old Earth. Cypher's legs are broken and he entrusts his son to make the trek to send out the distress call. The dangers of Earth, we're told, have only magnified since humans left, and the Ursa onboard their ship has escaped.
Oh boy, where to even start with this one?
I've got a great idea, let's take one of the world's most charismatic actors and then turn him into a stone-faced hardass, terse with words of encouragement, and mostly sidelined so that his son can go on his stupid hero's journey. I suppose Smith deserves some credit for stepping outside his comfort zone to play against type, but that praise only matters when the portrayal works. Smith is arguably miscast in his own passion project. That's because this was really a $130 million dollar birthday present to his son, trying to use dad's star power to establish Jaden as a star. It's less a movie and more like a product launch. On its face, I don't really have an issue with this. Nepotism has been alive and well in Hollywood for over 100 years and those in power have been producing vanity vehicles for their beloved for even longer. What I chafe at is that the finished product is so lacking and unconvincing. Jaden was cute in 2010's The Karate Kid remake, a movie that was far better than it ever should have been. Unfortunately, After Earth came at that special time in his life known as puberty, so he gets his lanky, squeaky-voiced, awkward growth stage forever captured on film. Thus when he gets into a huff, squeals at his dad, and then become the world's most improbable super warrior by film's end, it mostly brings about snickers. You don't buy a second of this character's ascent to hero.
Let's tackle the ultimate elephant in the room here, namely the involvement of Shyamalan. This is his first project he didn't conceive; Smith himself came up with the story and personally hired Shyamalan. Who deserves more of the blame? There's a reason why the marketing for After Earth has not breathed a word about Shyamalan's involvement. In my theater, when the end credits appeared and it opened with Shyamalan's director credit, the guy behind me remarked, "Well, that figures." His sense of dissatisfaction now had a tangible culprit. It's almost become a joke how much of a critical punching bag Shyamalan has become as a filmmaker. The man has genuine talent but it's five duds in a row (I am counting The Village) and not even the world's most bankable star could have saved this movie. As anyone who witnessed the atrocious Last Airbender can attest, Shyamalan is not a filmmaker who works well with a big special effects canvas. I'd suggest that Shyamalan, besides taking some time off, which may be a self-prescribed death sentence in Hollywood, find a smaller project to foster, perhaps something more personal and intimate. Nobody except the sadistic enjoys watching once-promising talents keep hitting a brick wall. Then again, people also dislike having to pay for terrible movies, especially when the director of said terrible movies keeps getting the opportunity to deliver more disappointment.
The plot, which Shyamalan is credited as a co-writer for, is so dull that I found myself almost falling asleep. You would think father and son surviving crash on a hostile alien world would be packed with survival thrills and excitement. You'd be wrong. It's as if Shyamalan takes a page from Smith's ranger character, and just goes about its business in the most thankless, ho-hum, undeterred manner. When we have characters that don't react to the danger they're in it has the misfortune of feeling less real, less urgent, and less dangerous. This was a problem with The Matrix films when Neo became a super being because then the stakes evaporated. It's hard to sympathize with characters that don't reflect the reality of their setting. With that said, so much of this script is just Kitai running off and running into different animals. He meets monkeys. He meets a tiger. He meets an eagle. He meets a slug. Scintillating stuff. Such ambition. If this is what the execution was going to be like, why didn't Smith and Shyamalan just make the planet an actual alien world? It would certainly open up the storytelling options. Or they could have gone in the opposite direction, setting this survival tale on a modern Earth. That would probably have made it much more relatable and resonant and also far cheaper.
The character back-story is also woefully familiar and just as ineffective. Before it even happened, I knew that there would have to be some tragic personal history so that Kitai could overcome his past. We're given some cringe-worthy moments of flashbacks to the family's happier times, when Kitai's older sister Senshi (Zoe Kravitz) was still alive. It's a plodding and contrived plot device for the father to preposterously blame his son for, who was like seven years old at the time. I kid you not, during one of these oh-so-necessary flashbacks, Senshi tells dad she got a copy of Moby Dick and a boy let her hold it. Dad doesn't get it, though I don't know if this is meant to be some lame sex joke. This back-story is ladled in with no real logical connection to events. All of a sudden, Cypher will be thinking about his broken leg and then, whoosh, we're thinking about Moby Dick.
There's also the issue of its tenuous grasp on reality. I know this quality is a give-and-take depending upon the tone of the sci-fi film, but After Earth is so drearily self-serious that it becomes even more unbearable when it so clearly conflicts with credulity. This movie's big message that it pounds into your head repeatedly is that fear is a choice, fear is not real, and that fear is a hindrance for mankind's progress. This is nonsense. Fear is what kept our ancestors alive rather than trying to play with larger predators. Fearlessness is a great way for your species to end. You know an animal without fear? Lemmings. The fact that the movie has to literalize this conflict in the form of a fear-smelling alien monster is just beyond absurd. Let's keep this literalizing-of-theme going; maybe next the aliens will fashion a monster that smells intolerance or illiteracy. Why are these aliens even genetically creating a monster to do their dirty work? If they have the superior scientific prowess to create a gnarly beast, I'm pretty sure they can take care of mankind. On top of this assertion, why would you make a beast that is effectively blind and only reliant upon one sense and then you limit that one sense to "fear"? Why not just have the alien monster smell human beings? That seems to make a lot more sense.
What also buggers my mind is the fact that, according to After Earth, everything on the planet has evolved to kill humans. First, I don't think substantial leaps in evolution work in meager thousand-year spans; secondly, these evolved creatures are really just slightly larger versions of familiar animals, which doesn't really make much sense either; and lastly, if humans have been off planet for a thousand years, how did these animals evolve to kill something they no longer have any interaction with? Then there's the fact that the Earth drops rapidly into freezing temperatures overnight, for no good reason. How do all those plants survive? As an extension, Kitai's super suit is just a prime example of a poorly developed idea that just as easily could have been abandoned. He has a special leotard that changes to his environment. We'll watch it change colors though we're never given any worthwhile reason why this is happening. However, Kitai's suit will not shield him from Earth's sudden temperature drops. So he's wearing this super suit that adjusts to his environment... except temperature? If you're going to present something all super scientific and then give it such obvious limitations, then you never should have introduced it in the first place. This is an ongoing theme with the film.
Then there are just nit-picky things like my total distaste for the production design of this movie. The spaceships look so chintzy. They have plastic flaps separating sections, like what you'd see in an office building when there's construction. The spaceship interiors, as well as home interiors, also look like some bizarre mix of honeycomb and bamboo. I'm all for thinking outside the box when it comes to futuristic design, but this is just stupid. One of the great possibilities of sci-fi is to capture our imagination with out-of-this-world visuals, the unfamiliar, the spectacle of the alien. If your spectacle is good enough, it can even save a so-so movie, like last year's Prometheus. Being stuck on Earth, only slightly different, emphasis on slightly, fails to deliver anything visually that will captivate an audience too often settling into boredom. Apparently After Earth looks pretty much like Earth except for Mount Doom popping up. The special effects are also lackluster and the score by James Newton Howard will try and trick you at every turn into thinking what's happening onscreen is a lot more interesting than it is.
If you value your entertainment, please ignore After Earth. It doesn't even work from a derisive enjoyment angle. The movie is lethargic and unimaginative to its core. It's predictable at every turn and underwhelming throughout. The plot consists of the most boring father-son team in recent memory and a hero's journey that feels false at every step. This big-budget star vehicle doesn't work when its star doesn't have the intangibles to be a star, nor does it help when the story is so poorly developed. The science feels boneheaded, the characters are dreary, the pacing sluggish, the spectacle clipped, and the world building to be bland. The shame is that this premise, even this exact same premise on a future Earth, could have easily worked as a suspense thriller. Smith seemed more interested in building an After Earth enterprise, since companion books were commissioned, and extending the reach of the Smith family empire. Making a good movie, it seems, was secondary. Being fearless also has its disadvantages.
Nate's Grade: D
The Script: The dialogue here is pretty bad. Filled with cringe inducing back and forth's, which only serve to continuously bludgeon the audience over the head with paternal life lessons, writers Gary Whitta and the director who shall not be named, have done "After Earth" (and it's actors) no real favors. To the point where most (if not all) of the watchable moments during this film (and there are more than a few) occur when nobody is speaking.
The Direction: As for the direction, he who shall not be named actually does a fairly decent job, for about half the movie. But at the point when "After Earth" exits the forest (you'll know it when you see it) the cinematography goes from striking, to overrun by cheap looking CGI, rivaling the likes of "Green Lantern".
The Story: As I alluded to before, I was rather impressed with how the plot here wasn't as bad as everyone was proclaiming it to be. And aside from the fact that the main "bad guy" in all of this doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense, much of this storyline is entertaining enough to be deemed the foundation of a watchable sci-fi venture. But then comes the insertion of melodrama. Over and over again said melodramatic scenes come about, slowing the film to a screeching halt just when things are starting to pick up. I'll put it like this: "After Earth" was no "The Pursuit of Happyness", no matter how much it tried to be.
The Acting: While this aspect is the least of the factors which worked against "After Earth", much will be made of Jaden Smith's bouts of goofy overacting. Some may go so far as to make claim that the younger Smith is a bad actor. To this I would argue that if not for those immensely awkward Cajun-like accents that each character was forced to use throughout "After Earth", Jaden's underrated acting abilities would have been given a proper chance to carry this story, with diction that wasn't so distracting.
Final Thought: The people wanted another "The Sixth Sense", but got "Devil" instead. The root of the problem with "After Earth" really comes down to the fact that after train-wrecks like "The Village" and "Lady in the Water", and the negative backlash from anime dweebs everywhere after "The Last Airbender", he who shall not be named needed to redeem himself with something the caliber of "The Sixth Sense". So, while "After Earth" is a step in the right direction (I'm still not recommending it) the bias that comes with this director will undoubtedly have many audiences taking an all or nothing attitude. In other words, this director who shall not be named needed to come out with something that was damn near Oscar worthy in order to avoid getting his film ripped to shreds right out of the gate. So, in his defense, the strong negative overreactions to "After Earth" may not be all his fault. Furthermore, this story was credited as a Will Smith idea, so if there is any real blame to be passed around, one could make an argument that "After Earth" is more Will Smith's fault than he who shall not be named.
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus
The effects and design of the future technology are hit and miss through the whole film with the crashed spaceship looking more like a busted up kite than something that could fly through the cosmos. The crazy amount of green screen work is obvious and took me out of the film a few times and some of the music cues were misplaced.
I think M. Night played it safe with this one to avoid the slings and arrows of all who judge him for not hitting it out of the park with each film he releases. It's unfortunate because none of his identity comes out in this film and I think it would have helped it a little in the end.
Overall I didn't think this was a terrible movie. It's just not a good one.
Even if "The 100" had not cornered the market on post-apocalyptic generational and parental issues, there would still be little reason to recommend "After Earth." That's how heavily contrived and predictable it is. Yes, yes, we get it. Kitai really needs to prove himself to his father. But at the same time, you don't have to travel half way across the galaxy to find an emotionally remote father. All of which makes for a waste of perfectly fine production design.
The story is set in the future where humanity have left Earth and settled on a new planet. Kitai (Jaden Smith) as he is taken on a mission with his father Cypher (Will Smith), but something goes wrong and they end up crashing and surviving on what is left of Earth. To survive in this dangerous world, Kitai must find his bravery to save himself and his father.
The plot is one of the most unoriginal and boring works I have seen in quite some time, and as the credits roll you force yourself to question if there was any story at all. We have a father and son conflict where they must work their differences to become closer. Sound familiar? Even as the film ends we expect some kind of emotional payoff but Shymalan even failed to provide us that. It's pretty much a movie where Jaden Smith travels to a volcano and has to fight a bunch of monsters over and over, with Will Smith just sitting and giving instructions the entire time. The message of this film is that to become a brave man you must fight a ton of monsters and have a bad relationship with your father. These characters annoyed me to death with their unbelievable dialogue and plain stupid backstories. How am I supposed to enjoy a movie when I can predict the cliché ending with the first few minutes? It's ridiculous and I am almost starting to believe Shymalan just wants to make movies as quick as possible without giving a second thought to if its "good" or not. Science fiction is a difficult thing to handle, this I will admit. But don't think of an unoriginal idea and feel the need to make the movie and try and make a quick buck. Are we supposed to believe the father and son are the only people who will survive a ship crash? Are we supposed to just accept that the protagonist doesn't find his actual courage until the last ten minutes of the film? These are the kind of questions I found myself asking myself over and over and they never seem to want to deliver an answer. So if you think that Will Smith and his son both in the same film is enough to make a cool story, think again friends.
The cast mainly consists of Will Smith and his son for an extended period of time, which raises the question of how Shymalan convinces all these great actors to be in his awful movies. Paul Giamatti, Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Dev Patel were all deceived, and now Smith has joined the club. Will Smith doesn't give a bad performance in this film, but what he does do is give us a character that we just don't end up caring about. He is an emotionless father who has a broken leg for most of the film and that just doesn't put his talents to good use if you ask me. There is a lot of anger in the movie from him and not enough humanity, people don't act like this. He reminded me more of a robot. Jaden Smith, however, is worthy of saying he gave just a flat out bad performance. He has no skills whatsoever in this role, all we ever see is one blank and stupid expression on his face nearly the entire film. When he yells it sounds like a teenaged girl crying about her cell phone being taken away. Just the sound of his voice gave me goose bumps of embarrassment, for this is one of the funniest performances I have seen all year. Overall these two actors may have given decent performances under a new direction, but what we are given is two lazy performances we are forced to bear thanks to a lazy script giving them nothing to work with. Perhaps it worked in The Pursuit of Happyness, but that was a long time ago and things have changed.
After Earth is a colossal mess that gets worse the more I think about it, and while it's far from Shymalan's worst film it's still just not good in any way. I hate to think about a great actor like Will Smith being dragged down by a bad career choice like this, as he has made such a name for himself. He has gone from a TV legend, to an A-list movie star, and now he has chosen to be in a weird sci-fi movie with his teenaged son? Something is wrong here people. I don't know how much they paid him, but I really hope that money was the only judgment that came from reading this script. I've also started to guess that Shymalan has ended his love of twist endings in movies, for now he has started providing us with boring and predictable conclusions. What made The Sixth Sense so great was that he mixed horror and thrills along with superb acting and a shocking finale, so I don't know where he lost his touch but I think he just lost his artistic vision in a world of dollar bills. What could've been a cool sci-fi movie that opens hundreds of new ideas ends up being a boring point A to point B film that never becomes interesting or likable. The visual effects are what the film relies on the most, but to be honest I could care less about special effects. A large budget doesn't make a good movie, but I feel like most of the budget went to paying its cast. The world and the monsters look uninspired and boring, and to be honest, at this point in time it's just extremely rare to actually be impressed by visual effects in movies anymore. If you need a movie that is unoriginal, boring and makes Will Smith look like a robot than After Earth is the film for you.