M. Night Shyamalan and George Lucas are really the same person?
That's the thought that kept running through my head through most of After Earth. It has many elements that reminded me of the Star Wars prequels: weird accents, flat characters, bad dialog, overreliance on CG, and it centers around an annoying teen you never really care about. Is there a typical M. Night twist in the film? If you count a totally predictable plot/character development that's telegraphed from the opening scene of the film, then yes.
After Earth takes place 1000 years in the future. Humanity has relocated to another planet outside the solar system called Nova Prime. While on Nova Prime, they encountered an alien force that operated on sensing human pheromones, especially fear. Cypher (Will Smith) was able to defeat these aliens, as he has no fear, so he's effectively blind to these aliens since he doesn't give off any fear pheromones. This is all explained in the first five minutes with a really awful narration delivered by Cypher's son Kitai (Jaden Smith). What makes it awful is that he's speaking with a weird, made-up accent that made it very difficult to understand what he was saying at times. The other characters in the film spoke with it as well (Will Smith's seemed to disappear as the movie went on). It was a totally unnecessary detail thrown in the film that added nothing to the story, other than make it harder to understand the characters. It's odd that they even spent so much time creating an accent for this society (even though they are from Earth), and desigining all of these cites when they spend maybe five total minutes on this planet.
Cypher and Kitai don't have much of a relationship, so his wife (Sophie Okonedo) urges him to take Kitai along on a routine mission. The ship is damaged in flight, however, and they are forced to crash land on Earth. Coincidentally, Cypher and Kitai are the only two survivors. Their ship is beyond repair and Cypher is hurt and cannot move. Kitai must get to the tail section of the ship to activate an emergency beacon, but it's several days away. Earth is a much different and dangerous place since humanity left it, but if Kitai follows Cypher's instructions he believes they will succeed.
That's pretty much all there is to the story, which is a problem as it slugs along. It's never very exciting or even all that interesting. We're forced to follow Kitai as he continues to disobey his father's direct orders for no reason. He even falls asleep at crucial moments. Part of the problem is that Jaden Smith is just not a strong or charismatic enough actor to carry the movie in the first place. It's worsened by the fact that his character is written as a typical, annoying teen. Plus, he always looks like he's about to cry.
If you think his Dad could save this, he doesn't. In fact, Will Smith barely even feels connected to the film. Since he can't move, he spends the entire film sitting in a cockpit delivering instructions through a communication device. If this was supposed to be a movie about a father and son bonding, it would have been more effective to keep these two together for the duration of the adventure. There's no connection or chemistry between the two as a result.
The CG was terrible. Most of the creatures looked completely fake, and was of the quality you'd expect to see on an original movie on SyFy. The main threat not only had a bad design where you can't tell its head from his ass, but it does that thing I can't stand where it moves so impossibly fast that there's no way anyone would last in a fight for more than two seconds against it. It's as if the CG was almost an afterthought, and then I find out that when Will Smith came up with the story for this, it wasn't even originally conceived as a sci-fi film. In fact, the title itself is misleading as this could have taken place anywhere, or at any time. It didn't need to be in the future, or even on Earth. It could have taken place in just a random forest for all it mattered. It's like Smith, Shyamalan, and co-writer Gary Whitta randomly decided to set in the future simply because they thought it would be cool. Plus, they could pump up the budget with unnecessary CG. Instead, they created a world that we're all totally detached from, when it could have been an uplifting stroy about a father and son.
After Earth is a boring, lifeless, uninspired sci-film that seems to serve only as a vehicle to push Jaden Smith on us again. It also shows us that M. Night Shyamalan is completely out of gas as a director. This was not worthy of a release during the Summer blockbuster season. Skip this one.
1.5 (out of 5) Death Star