Like father, like son – ★
It’s a credit to the marketeers behind Will and Jaden Smith’s After Earth that a lot of people were actually looking forward to seeing the film because i) they didn’t really realise that M Night Shyamalan had directed it and ii) we all got very excited by this rather mental Fresh Prince reunion on the Graham Norton show.
The film is set a thousand years into the future and earth has been abandoned because the atmosphere has become too dangerous for human habitation. Or something. Will Smith plays Cypher Raige, an army general who leads his people to victory against some blind alien monsters (“ursas”) who prey on people giving off fear pheromones. He doesn’t feel any fear when fighting them (it’s called “ghosting”), which means they can’t sense him so he can kill them easily. Or something. While he’s a great army man, he’s a tough, soulless father who has a terrible relationship with his son Katei (Jaden Smith), but decides to start remedying the situation by bringing the kid on his final mission where they’re transporting an ursa, the type of creature that killed the boy’s sister while he looked on. Or something. Their ship crashes on Earth and predictably only Cypher and Katei are left, with Daddy having broken his leg and unable to move. This means Katei has to travel 100km across a land rife with dangerous creatures to find a homing beacon. Or something. It’s all a bit daft and just trudges along.
With it being a Shyamalan film you’re kinda waiting for a twist like we saw in Oblivion or Moon, but over the course of the 100 minute run-time, nothing really happens. In a terrible script decision, Daddy stays stuck in his office chair skyping his kid as he makes the trek avoiding dodgy looking tigers and eagles. Will Smith wrote the original story with Gary Whitta and Shyamalan then putting together a script, so obviously he wanted the film to showcase his son’s talents and not steal the show himself. It was a terrible choice as Jaden is as toxic and hateable a screen presence as Rob Schneider or Eddie Murphy, so you’re kinda willing him to fall into a hole or get eaten by a giant alien ursa yolk.
Usually with a science-fiction film, even if the plot or the characters are boring the production design and gadgets may pique your interest. Unfortunately everything here looks like poor IKEA rip-offs and the idea of a ship a millennium into the future not having better homing beacons and communications tech is preposterous. Earth also looks kinda grand and it’s never really explained why this environmental disaster drove everyone away, it seems it was just a handy narrative device to force Katei to have to ration some gooey air filter things. The whole film is meant to be a big metaphor for the challenges present in father-son relationships but in truth it says absolutely nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times before and just plays like a plodding computer game where we’re trying to get our intrepid character from point A to point B.
Will Smith’s last very good film was Ali, coming in 2001. Some people even found something of worth in Hitch and I Am Legend, but for my money he’s been dead in the water for a decade. It’s interesting to note that he declined the Jamie Foxx role in Tarantino’s brilliant Django Unchained and said this…
Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character was the lead!” Smith also admitted he asked Tarantino to change the script to make the title role more appealing for him, saying: “I was like, ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!’
If he was actually making decent movies then this decision would have been fair enough, but in After Earth we have our first true turkey of 2013 and a piece of work that confirms Shyamalan’s status as an overpaid chancer who provides his audience with absolutely nothing of merit.
The 44-year-old Will Smith is in real danger of approaching complete irrelevance and dragging his karate kid son with him. Seems like 12-year-old Willow and her flicky hair may be our only hope.
USA / Directed By: M Night Shyamalan / Written By: M Night Shyamalan, Gary Whitta / Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith / 100min / Action / Release: 7 June 2013 (Ireland, UK)