'After Earth' Review: Young Jaden Smith Outshines Father, Director Shyamalan's Latest Letdown
Who would’ve thought that director and screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan would eventually become a laughing stock? The director who made incredible films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable then made films like The Happening, The Last Airbender and now After Earth.
After Earth isn’t terrible, but it’s more terrible than it is good or enjoyable. The film's one redeemable quality is the performance of young Jaden Smith, who is certain to have an acclaimed career in acting with performances like this one. It’s been seven years since father and son Will and Jaden Smith have been on screen together (2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness), and I was really hoping for an incredible reunion since the two are so good together!
The film opens with a prologue explaining why Earth was evacuated 1,000 years prior and everything has evolved to kill humans. Young space ranger Kitai (Jaden Smith) and his cold military dad Cypher (Will Smith) crash land on Earth during an otherwise routine space mission. Cypher is badly injured, and it’s up to Kitai to retrieve the rescue beacon which broke off in the crash and is hundreds of miles away.
There’s plenty of plot holes in After Earth, the visuals are limited and dull and, for a summer movie that could have been a blockbuster, it's just another Shyamalan let down. For a science-fiction thriller, I really expected the visuals to pop and add to the story, but overall it looked like a TV production. And the similarities to Star Trek just don’t help at all.
Although After Earth isn’t the Shyamalan comeback we hoped for, the film clearly belongs to Jaden Smith. In fact, his performance as young Kitai is what lifts the tired screenplay into a semi-watchable movie. The best scene in the film is the climatic battle involving Kitai and the alien. The young Smith’s character arc is incredible and as the audience we root for him from the beginning to succeed.
It’s pretty clear that Will Smith stepped back and let his son take over and be the true star of the film, but I really wanted more from his character. The elder Smith’s character isn’t a likable one from the start and I kept hoping he was going to achieve a character arc somewhere in the film, but he never did. I understand why his performance was so one-note, but it doesn’t make for an entertaining film.
If you are a Shyamalan fan, After Earth will be a huge disappointment, and if you’re a science-fiction space-adventure fan, I would just wait for the Blu-ray rental. The film might actually look better on an HDTV than in a dark movie theatre.