Director M. Night Shyamalan once seemed poised to become one of Hollywood’s preeminent filmmakers, but after the great Sixth Sense (1999), he put together the never-better-than-competent follow-ups Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002). From there, it has only gotten worse, as he has now delivered five consecutive flops that have been disparaged by critics and audiences alike (the highest rating any of his most recent five films has received on Rotten Tomatoes is 43%). After Earth will not restore Shyamalan’s reputation.
This one makes little sense. Technology can do anything, except when the plot demands it fail. A vulture/eagle evolved bird kills itself to rescue the hero, because, well, animals are known for sentimentality, after all. Speaking of animals, why has every species on Earth evolved to kill human beings, even though humans evacuated the planet one thousand years earlier?
Oh and humans. They now need some magic technological juice to breathe Earth’s oxygen, but an alien species never native to the planet has no such trouble. Cypher (Will Smith) orders his son, Katai (Jaden Smith), to abort a mission that is literally the pair’s only chance at survival just so we can see Katai scream into empty space and hear an argument between father and son, who are separated by untold distance and are not even looking at each other through the wizardry of their technology.
When not bogged down by exposition, the dialogue, like the performances, is near emotionless. A melodramatic back story tries to make us feel but fails.
The characters are poorly developed.
I’m not sure if Will Smith’s performance is awful or terrific. He effectively shows us an affectless military commander who might just be a psychopath put to effective use, but because his character is void of feeling, we never feel either.
Jaden Smith has moments of promise, especially when acting fear, but in other moments he is not up to being the face of an action movie with a $130 million budget and a distribution deal from a major studio.
For all of that, After Earth is not without some merit. With solid effects, cleverly designed animals that feel similar enough to our modern world’s species but also evolved enough to seem like possible post-apocalyptic survivors, and a plot that keeps the action rolling, After Earth is almost reasonably entertaining.