Director: M. Night Shayamalan
Cast: Will Smith, Jayden Smith, Sophie Okonedo
Plot: A thousand years into the future, Earth has been abandoned after its creatures evolved to destroy humanity in an act of natural self- preservation. Things take a turn for the worst when Legendary General and ‘Ghost’ Cypher Raige and his son Kitai crash land on it, calling for Kitai to embark on a rescue mission.
The latest instalment in the currently apocalypse- obsessed film industry driven by the 2012 Mayan foretelling comes from the minds of Will Smith and M. Night Shayamalan. After Earth tells the story of General Cypher Raige, the only man ever to ‘Ghost’ – thus avoiding the fear- detecting sense of an alien species. The overall finished product is, at least visually, decent – thanks to the visions of Shayamalan, but as an ensemble piece After Earth is a cocktail of half- stale ingredients.
There’s the story first – the most problematic of all aspects, which is impossible to disguise as anything other than a story of father and son created as a vehicle for Jayden Smith. It feels almost like a channelling of Smith’s already over-flowing pride for his children By the film’s end, it’s apparent that this is the most permeating element to After Earth – it’s so blatant, it’s cringeworthy – a matter not complimented by a cheesy, predictable script. Take for instance a line delivered by Kitai’s mother: “He doesn’tneed a commanding officer” (all together now!) “he needs a father!” (Queue disgruntled sighs.) It’d all be forgivable if the pretext wasn’t so faulted – perhaps they might have won more battles if they had stuck to using guns instead of shape-shifting swords. And then there’s the idea that in the future, everyone has the same, dodgy, untraceable accent, which sounds a little like a Scot eating hot food while trying to talk. AE’s world is inherently interesting, but the focus on a seemingly uneventful story chokes it.
Will Smith is more wooden than ever (partly due to a two dimensional character) and unfortunately Jayden Smith is out of his depth, unable to translate his cool charm in Karate Kid to AE. He has a moment or two where he shows some depth, but it’s soon buried underneath bratty cockiness. There’s an air of pushy parenting that hangs on AE like trousers wrapped around its ankles, hindering the film’s potential pace. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the story was given more room to breathe, but it isn’t – for the second and third acts, the weight sits solely on the Smiths’ shoulders. And they’re not the sturdiest here.
Criticisms aside, there is something to enjoy in After Earth. The landscapes are immersive and engrossing, and the rapidly changing environment is often far more interesting than the goings on within it. Shyalamalan takes the credit directorially, but shares fault for the script with Gary Whitta of Book of Eli screenwriting fame and (oddly) Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead Game (episode 4, to be precise – a highly appraised instalment), as well as Sci-Fi shooter Prey.
It’s a wonder, then, how a film can falter so much with a fair amount of talent backing it. Shyamalan’s career has been questionable ever since the Village bombed and seemingly irredeemable since The Happening, well, happened. Smith may be better off leaving others to draw Jayden’s particular strengths out, perhaps also leaving his personal ambitions for his children at home.
VERDICT: A shaky script sets the standard for the rest of After Earth, which shows breathtaking visuals and landscapes but exhausts itself with un-engaging characters and a naff narrative. ★★