Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Sci-Fi Movie Review of ‘After Earth’ (2013)

Movie Review of ‘After Earth’ (2013)

It’s telling that After Earth is the latest directorial effort of M. Night Shyamalan, but the marketing campaign has made absolutely no mention of this fact. A one-time critical wunderkind, Shyamalan has fallen far from grace, reaching an all-time low with 2010’s The Last Airbender that should’ve put an end to his filmmaking career. Although After Earth is not a Shyamalan movie in the typical sense (he only co-wrote, and the story isn’t his), it retains the director’s eye-rolling trademarks: awkward pauses, muted performances and a subdued atmosphere. Unfortunately, this translates to a lethally boring sci-fi production, with flaccid direction making After Earth a total drag instead of a mind-blowing action-adventure.

In the future, Earth has become uninhabitable, compelling the human race to abandon their home and colonise the distant planet of Nova Prime. Said planet is home to an aggressive race of aliens called Ursas, which are blind but have the ability to smell the fear of their prey. Military leader Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is the best at battling the Ursas, learning to relinquish his fear and thus become invisible to the predators. Unfortunately, Cypher’s son Kitai (Jaden Smith, Will’s son) is falling short of his father’s expectations, though he wants to prove himself. On a whim, Cypher takes Kitai with him on a mission into deep space with an Ursa egg in the cargo hold. But the ship crumbles in deep space, causing them to crash-land on Earth, leaving everyone dead except for Cypher and Kitai. They require a beacon in order to signal for help, but it’s in the tail-section of the ship, located about 100 kilometres of dangerous terrain away. Cypher has two broken legs, thus Kitai is their only hope.

If nothing else, After Earth is a unique viewing experience since it displays what happens when Shyamalan and a star with a comparably-inflated ego collaborate to produce a metaphorical, self-regarding, semi-autobiographical motion picture. After all, Will Smith wrote the story, casting himself as the most awesome and famous dude in the universe who tries to guide his teenage son to follow in his intimidating footsteps. Boy, that’s subtle. And let’s just take a moment to let it sink in that Will’s character is named Cypher Raige. Fucking Cypher Raige! What’s tragic about After Earth is that this is a boring survival story backed with a potentially exciting mythology. The film does attempt to explore it via voiceover in the opening credits, but it fails to do much else, leaving unanswered questions and untapped potential, especially since a whole lot of literature was actually written regarding this world. Why have humans stopped using guns and projectile weapons of all sorts in the future? They only use blades here, yet firearms would be much more effective against the Ursas.

What’s astonishing about After Earth is how small it feels. Here’s a story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, and yet Kitai wanders through endless regular-looking forests and landscapes as opposed to destroyed cities or anything else that would’ve made for compelling viewing. The fact that the film lacks scope makes me wonder where exactly the $130 million budget went (no doubt Shyamalan and Will Smith took a large portion each). Meanwhile, none of Earth’s animals have evolved in any creative way, and the digital effects are seriously terrible. The computer screens and space stuff looks okay, but the animals look like a PS2-era video game. Superior CGI has been glimpsed in movies on the SyFy Channel. Furthermore, Shyamalan does not have a firm enough grasp on large-scale action. Despite the deadly scenarios that Kitai becomes entangled in, the movie just isn’t exciting. Even the final showdown between Kitai and an Ursa (which lasts all of five minutes) is a bore. The attempts at suspense and tension fall flat, with hindrances (running low on breathing fluid, being stung by a bug) coming off as perfunctory and rote. There’s nothing to put you on the edge of your seat. The only surprising thing about After Earth is that it’s not in 3D. Whoa.

Since this is a vanity project for Will Smith, his performance is incredibly self-serious. The actor sheds his comedic, light-hearted persona entirely, becoming emotionless and stoic. While it’s somewhat commendable for Smith to attempt to stretch his range, he’s not playing to his strengths here. Try as he might, Smith is hit-and-miss as a serious performer, and he’s dull as dishwater as Raige. And nothing against Jaden Smith, but the young guy is terrible here. Flat, forced, unengaged and unengaging, Jaden does nothing worthwhile with the script. As a result, all of the dramatic scenes between Will and Jaden are boring, destroying all potential for an effective survival tale. It’s pretty unsurprising, though, as the actors in Shyamalan movies are often sombre and sedate. Outside of the Smith boys, there really aren’t any other performers worth mentioning, as they all receive what amounts to cameo appearances.

Judged as a father-son survival story, After Earth is dramatically limp and uninvolving. And as a science fiction action-adventure, it’s even worse, with barely a handful of set-pieces, none of which provide any lasting impact. The film looks decent enough, but the unconvincing CGI is too distracting, and ultimately there’s nothing new to see here. After Earth cannot have been created by the same M. Night Shyamalan who gave us the masterpieces of The Sixth SenseUnbreakable and Signs. Where the hell has that artistic, intelligent filmmaker gone? This movie feels like the work of a gun-for-hire who just doesn’t care anymore.

4.1/10

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