You have to give it to Will Smith. For a man prone to taking the spotlight and eating it up like a gluttonous child, he really is comfortable playing second fiddle in “After Earth.” Clearly just nothing but a vanity project for Smith and his son, he literally passes the torch on to his son Jaden to take up the role of the action hero. Smith meanwhile stays in a space ship for the duration of the film as the Maguffin leading his son to the film’s second Maguffin. It’s all for naught though since Jaden Smith has no screen presence, zero charisma, and can’t act to save his life.
“After Earth” really could be an excellent and emotionally turbulent science fiction survival film, but from beginning to end it’s so predictable. It seems proud of its predictability only because we should feel privileged to watch Will Smith and his son act in a second movie together. The Smiths play–get this–father and son! And their last names are Raige even though Will plays an emotionally stable hero. What complex subtleties. Jaden plays Kitai, a young man that wants to be what’s called a “ranger.” A Ranger ventures to distant planets and travels the universe, while also being able to build in to what’s also called shadowing. Shadowers have no fear and absolutely no awareness of fear on the battlefield which works since their prime enemy is an alien that can literally detect their victims by their fear.
Kitai is sadly not being accepted as a Ranger in his military school and has to tell his father Cypher, a renowned Ranger, that he didn’t make it. Of course Kitai will prove he can be a Ranger unofficially when an expedition leaves it up to Kitai to find help and save Cypher who is tied down and hurt in his ship. By gum, he proves he doesn’t need silly schooling and training, when he’s being personally counseled by his dad. Not to mention, he survives Earth based on his wits. And truly, Cypher may seem like a prick in the beginning, but it’s only because he sub-consciously blames his son for getting his hot older sister killed during an alien siege (Relax, Zoe Kravitz is in her twenties). Will Cypher learn to love and trust his son? Will Kitai prove to daddy that he can be a warrior and survive? Of course!
This film was built around the Smith’s starring, it’d be pointless if dad and his son didn’t bond in the end. That said, “After Earth” watches like it started out life as a spec script for a video game, and then was transformed in to a film. You’re a wannabe ranger whose ship is torn apart in a crash leaving you and your father, a skilled Ranger alive. Armed with a limited inventory, and a cutlass with multiple blade functions, you have to travel over sixty miles to find a beacon to send out help. The problem is your environment, once called Earth, is filled with dangerous predators. You must also get to a “hot spot” before night fall when the land freezes over. To make things worse, one of the fear sniffing aliens has broken free from its cage during the crash and it’s now lurking on the planet. And occasionally your hot older sister will show up in visions to cheer you on. The camera loves Zoe Kravitz. Most of the adventure that Kitai and Cypher engage in is built around murky, boring, and lame survival action that really doesn’t offer Jaden much difficulty.
He doesn’t have to act off of anyone for very long, and is required mainly to run and respond to his environment. Will Smith on the other hand has to bring us in to this world and make us care for their plight as he sits in his cockpit dying from internal bleeding, and thinking back to earlier days before he began unfairly projecting his regrets on his son. The environment on Earth now deemed deadly and unsuitable for life is surprisingly pedestrian, with most of the scenes shot in jungles while Kitai dodges venomous slugs, warthogs and Eagles. Oh my. Director Shyamalan doesn’t seem all that interested in introducing new animals or beasts, so much of Kitai’s horror is based only on his irrational, often times annoying, fear. With a better director, and better performers, “After Earth” really could have been something great, instead of being much too serious, bereft of entertainment, and lacking in any imagination.