I really wanted to like After Earth. I feel like the two people involved, Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan were due a win. It has been a while since Will Smith has really demonstrated his skill as either a decent actor or as a huge blockbuster, Hollywood draw. It’s been even longer since Shyamalan reached the heights and success of his best movies, Sixth Sense, Signs or Unbreakable.
It’s a shame then that After Earth is so mediocre. It’s not necessarily a bad movie but it just doesn’t have the impact, scale or originality that you need in a good science-fiction movie. When you decide to make a science-fiction film, you have to choose whether to use the science-fiction as a shallow backdrop, creating a world in which your story can exist but not necessarily depend upon or go full sci-fi; space-ships, aliens, huge explosions and an immersive, living universe full of potential and life, the such that Star Wars and Star Trek has made such a huge success. Early on, Shyamalan should have made that decision because what we have is a film that tries to do both but doesn’t do either.
My biggest issue, the greatest sticking point, is the title. It offers such promise and after seeing the trailer, the movie hinges on one particular aspect, the two main characters, Will Smith and his rookie soldier son, are stuck on a long abandoned, dangerous planet called Earth! That’s right, the planet we live on now! Except we are told it has now evolved to be dangerous to humans. A planet that exists to destroy mankind – that is a movie I want to see!
The planet we get isn’t Earth. That’s fine but it doesn’t seem to have ever been Earth! I would expect a planet teeming with hazards and dangers, cool new creatures and other such menace for Jaden Smith to try to get through, that was at least hanging on a recognisable planet that everybody seeing the movie lives on. Maybe he runs through ancient Los Angeles. Maybe he finds himself in the Sahara desert. Anything recognisable would make the premise and it’s promise much more attainable but instead we get a planet that could be anywhere and offers no such thrill as the title would suggest.
That is the first issue and the underlying problem the movie has, it never lives up to its full potential. There are cool moments, like an attack by a pack of monkeys or a flying battle with an over-sized eagle, but they aren’t anything new or exciting. They are never far from movies and set-pieces we have seen before.
I understand what Shyamalan is trying to do, intertwining a story about a fractured relationship between Father and Son into the Science-Fiction world, but to do that, the movie has to be better acted. Will Smith is decent enough but hardly stretches himself. His role consists of being sat down throughout the movie, barking orders at his bewildered son. The son in question, real life son Jaden Smith, just isn’t quite up to the task of holding a movie. He seems wooden and out of place. He lacks any real emotion in his voice and certainly doesn’t have the charisma, confidence or ability that his Dad does. He isn’t terrible but beyond the obvious gimmick, shouldn’t have a big sci-fi movie hanging on his shoulders.
Except After Earth isn’t a big sci-fi movie either. Coming from the production, mind and influence of Will Smith, I expected better. I expected bigger and much more spectacle but instead it felt like a film trying to be close and personal while placing in huge monsters and over-sized animals. After Earth’s biggest failing was that it just didn’t inspire. The story and details were obvious, offering no surprises and certainly no real thrills.
Overall, After Earth isn’t terrible, it just isn’t good. It feels like Will Smith’s star-power is quickly beginning to fade and disappear while Shyamalan keeps endlessly riding a wave of two to three great movies. Both need a win and the uninspired, cliché and badly written After Earth is far from it.
Rating – 2
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)