Stunt Granny Movie Review: After Earth

after-earth-poster

Will Smith +a post-apocalyptic Earth + Father & son mending old wounds while overcoming new challenges should equal an entertaining  film.  Unfortunately, when the primary ingredient is Jaden Smith, and the chef is M. Night Shyamalan, your end product is the dull, dry plate of lasagna known as After Earth.
A quick synopsis – Earth is abandoned due to cataclysms and global warming, with Humans settling on a planet outside the solar system called Nova Prime.  Years later, the planet comes under attack by an invading alien species via biological weapons known as Ursas – blind monsters who sense humans via fear pheromones. A special military force known as Rangers are trained to hide their fear (called ghosting) in order to successfully attack these creatures.  Fast –forward to the present time where Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) bristles under the shadow of his famous father, General Cypher Raige, while also dealing with the guilt of a previous family tragedy.  As a form of healing & bonding, the Raige clan travels together on a routine training expedition.  Of course they run into an impossibly-formed asteroid field and are forced to crash land on a now quarantined Earth.  Being the only survivors, they must find a way to reach an emergency beacon while avoiding an erratic weather climate, as well as an animal kingdom which has evolved to hunt humans.

While typing that synopsis, I realized that there is an engrossing story that could’ve been told.  Unfortunately, it was presented in a ham-handed, half-assed way.  There were warning signs beforehand that this wouldn’t be an enjoyable movie – the fact that Jaden Smith’s name came before Will on a poster was one.  The fact that the director of the movie was downplayed as much as humanly possible was another. But hey, it’s a Will Smith sci-fi movie – even with a flimsy story, I’d thought at the very least I’d get to see Will Smith do Will Smith events in a charismatic, slightly corny, yet entertaining manner.  Even the director of the Village, Lady in The Water and that goddamn travesty The Last Airbender couldn’t ruin a simple layup.  Well, that’s what I get for assuming, for M. Night did the seemingly impossible – he made a dull, middling, boring Will Smith science fiction movie.

When it comes to creating an effective science fiction movie, there are three factors to consider – setting, story and stars.  After Earth presents a gorgeous setting, being the first major release to take advantage of 4K resolution.  The movie is crisp, clean and realistic, with proper sense of scale and movement.  Unfortunately, it’s an empty world, bereft of depth.  One thing not absent are blatant plot contrivances.   I’m not the one to nitpick science fiction movies, due to the fact of a certain suspension of disbelief required for enjoyment.  But there’s no goddamn way I can believe with a straight face that a civilization which developed  interstellar space travel and wormhole technology are hunting scent monsters with magic Swiss army knives.  Seriously, there are no guns in the future?  A bigger issue however, is the setting of earth itself.  We are told countless times how dangerous Earth has become, and how lethal the predators have evolved.  What’s actually presented area bunch of baboons, a snail, a few jaguars, and an Eagle fight.  Future empty earth may look gorgeous, but it never seems as dangerous as it’s portrayed to be. Furthermore, how could these creatures evolve to kill humans, when there haven’t been humans present in a millennia?

But I could accept the deficiencies in setting, if they were masked by an engaging story.  Spoiler Alert – it isn’t an engaging story.  Now, many have accused this movie as not only a vanity project for Jaden Smith, but an informercial for Scientology.  There may or may not be merit to the second accusation, but there is definitely fuel for the first.  The main facets hammered in this film is a son overcoming the shadow of his famous father, as well as the concept of fear as an imaginary force which can be conquered through sheer force of will.  Unfortunately, the movie handles it with the subtlety of a sledgehammer being swung by a man with Parkinson’s disease.  How do I know that Kitae and Cypher have issues?  Because I’m told constantly how great Cypher is (while rarely being shown), while Kitai is being portrayed as some snot nosed punk chafing under the expectations of his father.  Here’s how a typical conversation between the two played out:

Cypher – Kitai, that is a dangerous monkey approximately 2 meters in front of you.  Don’t move, and don’t make eye contact.

Kitai-  No dad, I’m a brave Ranger, so I’ll throw a fucking rock at the monkey.

Cypher:  I told you not to move, now there are twenty monkeys about to bite your damn face off!! Now run to that river!!

Kitai – Running with a goofy look on his face while spazzing like a jackass and diving into the water

Cypher – stop swinging my damn sword, take a damn knee, and self evaluate, while I tell you the next part of your trip.

Wash, rinse, repeat.  The movie plays out like a video game, with Will Smith guiding his son to the destination, while spewing clues, admonishing him for his stupid decisions, and telling him that it’s too dangerous to finish the mission.  All while spewing some goofy ass accent – part Georgia/part vaguely European.  I would say that I felt like I was watching a game of Metroid…except I never wanted to smack Samus.  Which leads to the biggest problem – the stars.  Contrary to the seemingly spoilers involved in the previews and trailers, this is an isolated two man journey.  Will Smith spends the majority of the movie injured, vacillating between a surly drill instructor, or a dying man hallucinating about previous events in life and how they frame our current story.  Occasionally, glimpses of the charisma and energy which makes him a bonafide movie star manages to emerge, but for the most part, we get a subdued, marginalized movie star.  This choice would be fine if Jaden Smith could carry the weight.  He can’t.  I don’t know if it’s because he’s recently reached puberty, or that he’s Will Smith son, or whatever the reason – but I couldn’t stand watching him.  I didn’t care about his journey, I didn’t have any sympathy for his plight, and I was actually rooting for him to suffer calamity.  I actually liked him in the Karate Kid, but I was wishing that he switched places with his sister, played by the lovely Zoey Kravitz and possessing far more personality in 5 minutes of flashbacks.  In fact, I kept thinking that this movie would’ve been better with Denzel Washington and a credible director.  And when you’re saying that a science fiction movie would be better if you took Will Smith out of a role, then you’ve done something wrong.

Well, I spent too much time reviewing this movie.  Skip this movie and spend it on Star Trek Into Darkness or Fast 6.  When I got home, Men in Black happened to be on; suffice to say I had got more enjoyment, a lot more than After Earth. If you want me to continue to be a fan, Mr. Smith, then find something else for your son to do. -Shahid

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One Response

  1. Didn’t hate the movie, but I will admit that it is a bit of a bummer, considering how much of a role Will Smith has actually been on as of late. Nice review.

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