If you’d asked me a few hours ago what I expected to write here I probably would have said something like “Well, After Earth looks like it might be cool but M. Night Shyamalan directed it so I’m worried it’s going to suck.”
To be fair, M. Night Shyamalan’s track record of late isn’t exactly stellar. Signs and Unbreakable were middling. Lady in the Water and The Village were terrible. The Last Airbender was atrocious. It seems that every subsequent film has gotten worse and worse. My fears were unfounded though because I thought that the movie would be bad because he’d throw in some ridiculous twist that would make me groan at having to sit through the movie to get to it. Turns out it’s bad just because it’s just a pretty straightforward bad movie.
After a few minutes of annoying expositional montage and monologue we learn that the movie concerns Jayden Smith as Kitai, the young son of the leader of humanity’s military. He’s just failed to graduate from the military academy and his father, Will Smith, has just returned home from duty. Will Smith –I’d like to stress I just watched this movie and I can’t remember his character name– basically doesn’t know his son so in an attempt to bond he takes him with on his next mission.
Some science fiction later and they’ve crash landed on a planet that turns out to be Earth thousands of years after humanity abandoned the planet as it had become hostile, Will Smith is hurt and so Kitai has to make the journey to salvage emergency supplies from another part of the crashed ship 100 kilometres away.
Are you thinking to yourself that you might know what happens next? Well you probably do though. This movie plays out as the most straight up hero’s journey story in years. Every time Kitai is in peril you know what’s going to happen, how he’s going to get out of it and why well before the movie has a chance to show you.
Is he going to start out showing his weaknesses? Of course he is. Is he going to have a conflict with his father? Clearly. Will he require some supernatural aid? Obviously. Is he going to face a road of trials on his own and emerge reborn with a boon? Naturally. Is he going to atone with his father? Why wouldn’t he!
Seriously, you’ve seen this story a thousand times before (and to be fair you’ll probably see it a thousand times more) and I can guarantee that you’ve seen it done better. Couple that with some really annoying contradictory or nonsensical details such as the planet freezing over every night but all the foliage being tropical or Will Smith’s character having a cut artery but somehow managing to survive for 3 days and you’ve got the makings of a pretty lazy story.
The movie isn’t terribly poorly acted. Jayden Smith and Will Smith both are perfectly serviceable in their roles and are up to the tasks they’re given. That said, they both seem to fall in and out of this strange pseudo-southern future accent that seems to come and go as they please.
It’s also interesting to see Jayden Smith at this stage. Reports have it that his father is helping basically train him to be a movie star, and it appears that he has taken some acting classes. It’s hard to judge a 14 year old with a mediocre director so while I will say that he’s not great I can clearly see that he has potential to be so (let’s not forget his father can act when he puts his mind to it after all).
The movie does have some pretty flashy visuals and it’s kind of cool to see some interpretations of what animals might have evolved into over the course of 1000 years but for all the talk in the first act (and every trailer you’ve seen) telling you that “everything on earth is evolved to kill you” there seems to be a whole lot of things on the planet that really don’t care if you’re there or not and the big bad isn’t even from Earth, it was on the spaceship with them and we only know it’s the big bad because the opening montage of exposition told us.
That is to say, the concept is cool but it doesn’t ever pay off. The technology in the film is also interesting with the ship appearing to kind of partly organic or something, which at least I haven’t really seen much of before.
When I first left the theatre I had mixed feeling about the movie. On the one hand it’s pretty bad, but on the other it’s not bad in the main ways I expected. This led me to think that if M. Night Shyamalan can make a movie that’s just regular bad then maybe he’s on an upswing; maybe his films will start getting better (and to be honest, I’d really like to see that happen) but as it stands I think his reputation as a mediocre film maker who happened to have a good first outing is likely to endure.
After Earth is a better than I feared it might be, it’s still not a good movie. Like Oblivion a few weeks ago there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and nothing here you haven’t seen explored better before. The plot is predictable and while it does look pretty good it’s actually just kinda boring.
Rating = 3/10
ps: If you want to see a Hero’s Journey, just watch Star Wars: A New Hope or The Matrix or Harry Potter or any number of other, better examples.