After Earth - Review

How much do you have to suck, when putting your name as the director on the movie's poster would cause bad promotion?
Well, you would have to suck at least as much as director M. Night Shyamalan.
After a promising breakthrough with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Shyamalan progressively seemed to lose his talent for making good movies.
Starting with weaker movies like Signs and slowly turning to cinematic catastrophes like The Happening, Shyamalan has become a running-gag of a movie director.
Instead of being curious about what kind of movie Shyamalan is going to hit us next with, we reached a point, where the question is "How much worse can his movies get?".
With that said, is After Earth a new low for his career? Or is it finally a movie that isn't even so bad?  

The plot:
One thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity's escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind's new home. Legendary General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13-year-old son, Kitai (Jaden Smith). 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.
(source: IMDb)

After Earth's main theme is the relationship between son and father. It's sort of a sci-fi coming-of-age story, where a young and unexperienced cadet has to overcome several dangers on an abandoned planet to gain the respect of his father and strengthen the bond with him simulatenously.
With that said, above this fairly basic but straightforward premise, After Earth simply refuses to evolve beyond it and deepen the storyline.

Many reviews on other websites describe After Earth as "feeling like a video game", and that's because it's 100% true.
Just when the main plot point kicks in (the crash on planet Earth), the movie immediately uses plot devices to drive the story forward that are ripped straight out of a video game.
"Your mission is to retrive the rescue beacon, this is your weapon and equipment, i as your father will monitor you on your quest and give you tips, watch out for enemy encounters along the way, at the end of your mission there's a final boss.".
Kitai's quest through the wild forest of Earth exactly feels like him fighting from one level to the next. Complete with enemy encounters, medi packs (oxygen capsules) and a final boss battle.
To top it all off, the movie introduces a hyper-fighting technique called "ghosting" that can be triggered by the Rangers to not only not fear anything but also somehow instantly increase their fighting abilities...yeah convincing and not video-gamy at all (and as some say, a hint at be the judge).

Ghosting?...I smell Tom Cruise.

Sadly, even if After Earth was a video game, it would be a bad one.
Instead of exciting encounters with dangerous animals to compensate the unconvincing character development, most of the movie shows Kitai just running and roaming through the forest with some annoyingly sentimental flashbacks and advices from his father thrown in.
It all results in the movie having an extremely slow and boring pace due to nothing to actually show or entertain you with.
Viewers expecting an adventurous travel through the dangerous wilderness of Earth like the journey through Skull Island from King Kong will be completely left in the dust. Overall, i only recall three enemy encounters throughout the entire movie whereas two of them don't even last more than 5 minutes. It all gets very monotonous, formulaic and lacks any suspension due to no dispensable side-characters to get killed off.

The few anti-climactic encounters barely qualify as "set-piece-moments" and are furthermore diminished by very weak effects work.
The entire CGI effects in After Earth look pretty fake considering today's movie standards.
Animals, like the encounter with the group of agressive apes, look very artificial when in motion and green screen work is painfully obvious in every shot it's used (for example: Kitai at the cliff).
Also, despite being said that the whole planet and its entire wildlife has "evolved" to kill humans, they don't actually look that "evolved" and rather normal (except maybe a bit bigger).

Get ready for walking through the forest...a lot of it.

Being the newest Shyamalan movie, it (of course) has its good share of illogical stupidities and plot holes. Only to name a few...
How did the entire wildlife on Earth evolve to exactly kill humans, when humans left the Earth thousand years ago? Why do Rangers only use speers to fight instead of guns? Why is Kitai such a big pussy, when he is supposed to be a Ranger(army)-cadet and was exactly trained for such situations? Why doesn't Kitai check for any other survivors on the crash site? Why do ALL the people in the future behave and talk like robots? and much much more...

However, character development is a big part of any coming-of-age and son-father-relation story. Unfortunately, After Earth severly suffers from a main problem - badly written characters.

The two main characters, Cypher Raige and his son Kitai (god those names are stupid), are kept extremely basic. Along with extremely forced and wooden dialogue without any relevant substance whatsoever, the movie tries to give the illusion of insightful characters by constantly cutting into overly sentimental flashbacks and characters completely changing their views in a milisecond.
The relationship between Kitai and his father Cypher can be described as the relationship between a giant pussy of a cadet and his overly strict, robot-like father putting big expectations and pressure on his son to follow his footsteps (just like the Smith family in real life actually).
The stereotypical characterization of Cypher as the tough and basically emotionless father furthermore robbs any amount of charisma and credibility out of Will Smith's performance (i didn't even know that was even possible). It's a complete waste of his talent but not necesserily his fault, because Will Smith is simply nothing good given to act with.

"What the fuck is so funny about being in a Shyamalan movie?"

Now, Jaden Smith is a whole different story.
Not only is Jaden's character, Kitai, at least just as badly written as Will's, but Jaden takes it even a step further by giving us a very bad acting performance with it.
You can tell that Jaden "tries" to give a good emotion-filled performance in scenes where Kitai's desperation during his journey shows, but in the end, those moments come off more unintentionally funny and dumb than anything else.
His dialgoue-delivery feels painfully "acted" and especially the fact that Jaden has the EXACT SAME sad-puppy-dog expression on his face throughout the entire movie will drive you crazy.
Considering that After Earth obviously is a movie to give Jaden Smith's career a large boost, it's amazing how much this backfired, seeing how After Earth only proves that Jaden Smith simply lacks the charisma and acting talent to carry an entire movie all by himself.

Despite some minor tacked on supporting actors like Zoe Kravitz (...*gasp*) thrown in for flashback-purposes, After Earth is mainly a two-man-show, whereas Jaden does all the running (a whole lot of it) and Will just sits around and gives some advice here and there.
Just as i said, the movie is an obvious Jaden Smith vehicle.

Get used to that expression for about 100 minutes.
All in all, After Earth might not be worse than Shyamalan's previous cinematic blunders but it definitely is one of his worst movies. With a premise that focusses on the relationship between father and son, it's amazing how little effort has been put into writing at least two functioning three-dimensional characters or any credible character development. Designed to obviously boost Jaden Smith's acting "career", Will Smith takes a backseat to Jaden's performance, which completely backfired by just proving that Jaden not only is a bad actor but also cannot carry a whole movie all by himself.
Considering that even the action aspects of the movie fall incredibly flat with very few set-pieces and unconvincing CGI work, there's as good as nothing to recommend about this movie, except maybe having a premise with potential.
Even directing a blockbuster sc-fi movie without anything supernatural or twisty to fuck up, Shyamalan's nasty fingerprints are all over this dull mess of a movie.
One of the worst Shyamalan movies and easily the worst Will Smith movie to date.

Final Verdict: 1 out of 10 

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