Film Review: After Earth (2013)

‘So much could have been done with this […] but they then made the decision to hire M. Night Shyamalan as director . . . and writer’

Success or Failure: M. Night Shyamalan

After Earth, 2013

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Zoe Kravitz, Kristofer Hivju, Sophie Okonedo, Lincoln Lewis

 

Jaden Smith was a rising actor back in 2013 and his parents, wanting to give him that starring role that will set him off, both produced After Earth; a film where humanity’s actions were so bad humans had to flee Earth for a new planetary home. Hundreds, if not thousands, of years later, though, Cypher Rage (Will Smith, Bright), takes his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) on a journey that sees them crash landing on an uninhabited-by-man planet Earth. So much could have been done with this (and so much was planned as a universe was an idea at one point), but they then made the decision to hire M. Night Shyamalan as director . . . and writer!

As noted, Jaden Smith’s leading role could have propelled his acting career, his character’s journey and his own real-life journey from childhood into adulthood. Stepping out of his father’s shadow (Cypher Rage is a hugely successful soldier and Kitai failed his initiation) into the spotlight on all fronts. But After Earth was not the film to send him on this journey, instead it landed him a Razzie Award (as well as one for Will Smith) in acting and marked the lowest ebb of Shyamalan’s career.

For one, the film is just so boring. After they crash land and Kitai and Cypher are the only survivors (rather convenient that a father and son are the only survivors on a crash landing), Cypher reveals he’s broken both of his legs and the communication device doesn’t work. The back of the ship, which broke off and landed 100km away, has another and Kitai must travel on his own, with an Ursa (an alien creature they have had to fight on their new home, Nova Prime) on the loose and a planet which has evolved to do anything to kill any and all humans. Kitai then walks around a bit, he encounters some monkeys and snakes and other animals, then has a bit of an argument with Cypher before losing contact and coming face-to-face with an Ursa (by the way, Ursas hunt by fear; they are blind and attack when they sense fear in humans; Cypher Rage is one of the few people on Nova Prime who is emotionless, meaning he can fight the Ursas as they can’t see him). It’s just a long journey without much excitement or surprises.

After Earth, 2

The journey is a metaphor for Kitai’s maturity, so why couldn’t they have had Cypher not break his legs and join the journey and be the protective father for the first half before slowly unlocking his emotions through worry for his son and this worry becomes fear when Kitai encounters the Ursa and that unlocks his invisibility to the Ursa meaning they can sense him and that forces Kitai to be the hero and save Cypher. That tells the story of Kitai’s maturity while having him and Cypher interact and slowly bond throughout their journey. Having Cypher sitting in a room speaking through a headset is just so boring to watch because Will Smith couldn’t care less about his performance (he obviously realised the script was poor) and Jaden Smith couldn’t care less about his performance. And their Razzie Awards were no surprise victory.

Another poor element is the idea to set it in a forest full of trees and hills and trees. How much more visually appealing would the film have been had they landed in a derelict Chicago 1,000 years in the future. You can have the lions and the monkeys running around the town, too, and have all these great visuals of what our planet could be like if we just took off and left it unattended. A forest is just so run-of-the-mill, meaning they can just throw trees in there and they won’t need to come up with anything creative for the city’s appearance. Also, could trees survive 1,000 years without humans planting new ones? Because they look pretty healthy in this film. The same goes for the animals, the same animals which have adapted to kill humans. If I wondered into a group of monkeys and threw a rock at them or met a snake in a cave or a pack of lions I would expect, at the very least, for them to attack me. So how on Earth (no pun intended) have they ‘evolved’? I watched and waited for some twist; maybe humans were still on the planet and only half evacuated for some reason, but nope. They were just animals in their habitat being animals with no answers as to why the planet was supposed to have ‘evolved’.

There’s so much more to rant about (like how some bird wants to feed Kitai to her little ones but soon respects him enough to save his life and how the weather changes instantly which is shown to kill animals despite animals still surviving in large populations for the next 1,000 years in an atmosphere that may not be all too inhabitable due to the trees surely dying out) but I’ll have to end it here. I try to aim for about 600 words in a review but when the script is so, so, so frustratingly bad it’s hard to contain it to a short review. It’s so obvious throughout this film that nobody cares about it. The only positive I can say about After Earth is that it finally made M. Night Shyamalan realise how poor he’d become and soon began to change the downward trajectory of his filmography.

 

Personal: *     Acting: *     Writing: *     Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * ½

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