A thousand years in the future, after the inevitable world war that nearly destroys the planet, earth rebels against the human race and forces us to relocate. Humanity eventually sets up shop on an alien planet that is unfortunately inhabited by an uber-predator known as the Ursa that locates its prey through sensing its fear. Enter General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), humanity’s greatest soldier who teaches himself to be fearless and therefore invisible to the Ursa. He struggles, however, to relate to his gifted son Kitai (Jaden Smith) who wants nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps. While on a routine interstellar trip that will ostensibly help the two bond, their ship crash lands on (you guessed it) earth, leaving only Cypher and Kitai alive. But Cypher’s legs are broken and, unable to move, he is forced to send Kitai off alone into the dangers of earth in order to find a tracking beacon that will bring the help they so badly need.
As a longtime fan of science fiction, it pains me to see a good idea wasted on a bad movie, but unfortunately this happens far too often within the genre. After Earth should be at the very least an interesting, enjoyable film and probably would be in the right hands and yet it manages to miss on even the lowest level of goals. At one time, M. Night Shyamalan was one of the most ambitious, exciting directors in the industry and stood at the helm of three films I love. Now, however, he has fallen so far that the studio behind After Earth refused to use his name in the advertising for this film and did everything they could to keep his involvement under wraps. The reasons for this move become clear early and often. The script is littered with bad dialogue (and even worse techno babble) and the plot is paper thin. Meanwhile, the direction of the film is just as spotty and the pacing in particular misses the mark quite badly. At his best, Shyamalan was never great at character development (Signs would be the real exception in my book) but he was tremendously talented at creating tension and developing the plot. These skills have left him, however, and as such, After Earth struggles mightily both in the progress of the narrative and the would-be emotional relevance that the film so badly needs but never can piece together.
Shyamalan’s shortcomings, however, only serve to distract from the biggest issue at work within After Earth, that being the awfulness of Jaden Smith. I have always been a huge Will Smith fan and I will continue to contend that he is an extremely talented actor who is capable of great things. Somewhere along the line, however, he became obsessed with three things:
1.) His image and legacy; 2.) Making an absurd amount of money; 3.) Nepotism.
His kids are everywhere, which is exactly what Smith wants and exactly what the world does not need. It would be one thing if Jaden was a good or even decent actor. But he’s not. Now, I try very hard in my reviews not to bash on child actors because, after all, they’re just kids. But Jaden Smith is exempt from this rule because his dad has done everything he can to force him into the spotlight and he should be evaluated not as a child actor but simply as an actor. As such, let me just say that Jaden Smith is not just a bad actor; he’s epically, historically, unbearably awful. He is the worst child actor to take a starring role in a mainstream movie since Jake Lloyd. Not only did I not buy him as an action star (which this movie tries mightily to push upon us), I did not buy him as an actual human being. With each wooden line delivery and each awkward action scene, Jaden’s mere presence in the film (and possibly the world) grated on me more and more to the point that I found myself actively rooting for the creatures of earth to kill him. He’s just so incredibly bad. If he isn’t nominated for a Razzie award this year it will be either because the Razzies are too nice to nominate a kid or his dad threatened to turn the Independence Day aliens loose on them. Whatever positives After Earth carves out for itself are immediately crushed and beaten into the dead ground by Jaden’s immense lack of talent, making this one of the worst films that Will Smith has ever put his name on. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence)