I’ve always had a weird relationship with M. Night Shyamalan movies. For every one movie I think is pretty good, there is another I don’t like. For every Sixth Sense and Unbreakable there is The Happening and The Last Airbender. Two steps forward, two steps backward. In the case of After Earth, there isn’t a step at all. It’s not good but not horrible, just there. In the movie, the earth as we know it can no longer sustain human life and mankind has colonized a new planet, Nova Prime. For hundreds of years humans have been at war with the native Ursas who don’t take too kindly to mankind just settling on their planet. The Ursas can’t track humans by sight but can “smell their fear” in order to hunt down their prey. One legendary soldier of the Ranger Corp, general Cypher Raige, played by Will Smith, has perfected a technique called “ghosting” in which he (and only he, apparently) is able to suppress his fear enabling him to become invisible to the Ursas. Cypher brings his son, an up and coming Ranger named Kitai (played by Will Smith’s actual son Jaden) on a mission in hopes of mending their rocky relationship. The mission goes awry and Cypher and Kitai are marooned on Earth. Kitai must travel across the dangerous planet alone to locate a distress beacon so that he and the injured Cypher can be rescued.
Will Smith has become a very accomplished actor, a far cry from his Fresh Prince days. You wouldn’t know that from this movie, however. Both he and Jaden come off as robotic and wooden. The uneasiness that Cypher and Kitai display around one another makes sense in the context of the flimsy story but it but none of it feels natural. Part of this is due to the horrible accents that everyone has. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to have everyone do a horrible impression of Morgan Freeman doing a British accent but it will take you out of the movie.
Shyamalan sets up a world seemingly fraught with danger yet I never really felt as if our protagonist was in any real peril. At the same time, the film is very safe and predictable. The action sequences are ok, even though there aren’t many of them and we spend the majority of the movie watching Kitai run around the forest.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it is indeed a movie. One hundred minutes of mediocrity. It’s completely watchable and somewhat enjoyable, but you won’t give After Earth an afterthought. The film feels like another Smith Family self-indulgent buisness project (story by Will, starring Will and son, produced by Will and wife and brother-in-law) but, if the Obamas of Hollywood are determined to make Jaden a superstar, they have to do a little better than this.
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