Director M. Night Shyamalan has had a rough run. After knocking it out of the park with 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” and following that up with the critically well received “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” he fell off the wagon. His talents as a storyteller seemed to vanish and his scripts became more and more hackneyed with each successive film. He hasn’t directed a movie that one could reasonably argue as good in over a decade. Despite a rare marketing move that doesn’t highlight his involvement, “After Earth” is not his return to form. In fact, it may be his absolute worst, right down at the bottom of the barrel with 2010’s “The Last Airbender.” It’s a movie without ideas, adequate pacing, competent editing or a story worth caring about. Even with two charismatic leads, there is very little to like here.
Will Smith plays Cypher, a General on humankind’s new home planet, Nova Prime, which humanity was forced to flock to after they destroyed Earth’s atmosphere with carbon fuels. His son, Kitai, played by Jaden Smith, is lacking in discipline, so he decides to take him along on a routine trip through the cosmos. However, after taking severe damage in a scientifically inaccurate asteroid field, they’re forced to find the closest planet to crash land on, which just so happens to be Earth. The entire crew, aside from Cypher and Kitai, is killed in the crash and because Cypher’s legs are broken, it’s up to Kitai to save them. His mission is to travel to the tail of the ship, which broke apart upon atmospheric entry and now resides approximately 100 kilometers away, and locate the distress beacon.
Upon explaining Kitai’s mission, Cypher warns him, in what amounts to a screenwriter’s desperate attempt to raise the stakes of what is about to happen, all things on Earth since mankind’s evacuation have evolved to exterminate humans. Every living thing he’s going to encounter out there is going to try to kill him. That is except for spiders. And birds. And buffaloes. And hogs. And fish. Even the giant hawk that swoops down and grabs him seemingly only does so to protect him, going so far as to save his life later on. The only creature that poses any threat to him is, hilariously enough, a venomous leech, which latches onto his hand and nearly kills him before he’s able to stab the antidote into his heart. “After Earth” sets up rules and then refuses to play by them.
It’s almost as if Shyamalan didn’t think the viewers would realize this. In similar ways, the entire movie is essentially an insult to any moderately intelligent person sitting in the audience. For example, the entire planet (or at least the section of the planet they’re on) freezes over to uninhabitable temperatures at night, yet this doesn’t seem to affect the abundant and diverse wildlife. Additionally, it has only been 1,000 years since humans fled Earth. By evolutionary standards, that’s a drop in a giant bucket and certainly not enough time for the remaining wildlife to become what is depicted onscreen. In terms of logic, “After Earth” has next to none.
However, this isn’t its biggest flaw, nor is its meaningless narrative and thematically empty core, but rather a statement that being emotionless can be our greatest strength as human beings. Compare this to this summer’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” (or the entire “Star Trek” series as a whole), which stresses the importance and uniqueness of emotions to our species—besides, it’s what makes us who and what we are—and you have something so empty-headed it’s nearly unfathomable. This idea may be opposite of that blockbuster franchise, but it’s also counterintuitive to the very idea of existence and humanity. Somehow, “After Earth” even gets its ideas wrong.
Topping it off, much like any science fiction movie devoid of ideas, is an action packed finale involving a deadly alien, one that comes from a blind race of creatures who hunt their prey based on the pheromones we secrete when we are afraid (they “literally smell fear” as the narration puts it). What transpires is predictable and occurs as a result of some of the most obviously foreshadowed dialogue you’ll hear all year.
It’s time to call “The Sixth Sense” what it was: a fluke. It was a fantastic fluke, sure, but it was still a fluke. Since then, Shyamalan has done a nose dive into irrelevance and “After Earth” may be his worst yet. Its futuristic society is poorly conceived (they have no doors, sleep in hammocks and their spaceships look like they’re supported by bamboo poles), its CGI backgrounds are unconvincing and its editing fails to create the illusion of a consistent timeline; its copious amount of jump cuts, which will only be missed by those not paying attention, is distracting in a movie that needs as many victories as it can get. “After Earth,” to put it as bluntly as possible, is a disaster.
After Earth receives 0.5/5