Summer movies almost don’t feel right without a Will Smith project. Since the mid 90s, Smith’s action and sci-fi blockbusters have guaranteed Hollywood success.
Director M. Night Shymalan debuted strong with The Sixth Sense but has become a joke with his recent releases. M. Night and Will Smith’s collaboration, After Earth, stands apart from both men’s previous work, but not for the right reasons.
Humanity lives on the planet Nova Prime, after Earth became uninhabitable for the species. An alien attack forced humans to Nova Prime, but made a legend of Cypher Raige (Will Smith).
The aliens lacked eyesight and only attack when their senses detect fear. Racing heartbeats, sweat and pheromones give clues to the location of their prey. The few humans that mask fear have an ability referred to as “ghosting,” which Cypher excelled at.
Ghosting allowed him to walk calmly amidst the aliens, killing many and establishing him as a respected soldier. Cypher’s son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) strives to be a great soldier, like his father. Kitai has to also fight the anger he holds toward his father for being absent for most of his life.
A trip intended to give father and son time to bond, turns quickly when an asteroid strikes their ship, stranding them on Earth. Cypher sustains a leg injury and attempts to coach Kitai’s retrieval of a homing beacon that can bring help to them.
After Earth doesn’t feel like an M. Night film, which (sadly), is a good thing. It’s a decent science fiction piece with great special effects. Jaden Smith takes center stage here and it’s his best performance so far. That’s still not saying much since his acting experience is limited, and he’s mainly displaying anger most of this film.
Both father and son have strange accents attributed to their characters, that are never explained. Will Smith spends most of the film in a very sedated, drawl and Jaden seems to be speaking between his teeth.
After Earth makes a big sci-fi mistake and breaks one of it’s main rules. We’re constantly reminded that every creature on the planet kills other things, especially humans (even though humans have been away for thousands of years?). Yet, one of the animals helps Kitai, in a scene that is meant to be touching. Instead, it feels out of place.
After Earth doesn’t deserve a lot of the venom it’s getting. Most people seem (justifiably) annoyed at seeing M. Night’s name and Jaden’s nepotism in Hollywood is a favorite complaint from internet commenters. Will Smith in a more reserved, wooden role may be one of the least interesting characters he’s played in a long time.
Will’s decision to focus on his son and take a backseat may hurt this movie, for those who want more of him. Jaden feels forced on the audience, and like his character, is NOT his father.
After Earth’s greatest crime is that it’s mediocre. And for once, the M. Night twist, is that there is none.