Hey, remember that one great film that M. Night Shyamalan made? Nope, me neither. However, when I saw the trailer for After Earth, I thought that maybe this sci-fi action thriller may finally put a good film to his name.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Will and Jaden Smith star as a father and son, stranded on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been destroyed by war, pollution and violence. Nearing extinction, humans have fled to a new, habitable planet, and the animals have adapted to become dangerous predators. When his ship crash lands on Earth, Young Katai (Jaden Smith) must traverse this deadly territory in order to retrieve a rescue beacon to call for help for him and his father (Will Smith).
This is a great premise, and if done well, could make for a great movie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t done well. Shyamalan had an opportunity here to let his imagination run wild and make some seriously cool beasties, but all we see is a baboon, some tigers and a bird. None of them seem any different though, just slightly bigger! This lead to some rather underwhelming confrontations.
Which brings me to my next point! For an action film, there really isn’t much action. There are three encounters with the adapted animals of Earth, yet Katai only engages them once. This was disappointing, as the trailer suggested much higher levels of action. Most of the film is Jaden Smith waving his weapon around and running away from things.
I’m not saying there isn’t any action at all. The battle with the tigers is certainly tense and entertaining, and a showdown with the monstrous “Ursa” at the climax gives a taste of how the action could have been, but left me wishing that more of the film had been like that.
It’s not all bad though. As well as the action scenes (which were entertaining, despite the lack of them), the film also looks great. The CGI on the creatures isn't the best I've ever seen, but it isn't terrible. The main visual pull is in the way the new world looks. A shot near the beginning of the film shows a vast and beautiful landscape, populated by a number of things flying around or grazing. No matter what was happening, the world always seemed alive, and for me, this is one of the highlights of the film.
Will Smith also does pretty well with his character. He played the Kristen Stewart card towards the beginning of the film and showed no emotion whatsoever, which fit with his hard-as-nails, military captain style role. However, as the film progresses, his injuries take their toll, and the danger around his son increases, his emotions begin to come to the surface. These emotions are portrayed pretty well, and shows just how far he has come since being the Fresh Prince.
Unfortunately, Jaden isn’t as convincing. I only truly believed his performance once, when he’s shouting about how his father was never there for him, which in hindsight is somewhat worrying. Other than that though, there was nothing particularly spectacular about him, and in a main character, this isn’t great. I struggled to make any emotional connection with his character, meaning that I really didn’t care what happened to him.
After Earth isn’t a terrible film, it just doesn’t stand out as a great one. The visuals are good, and the relationship between Will and Jaden Smith adds a sense of realism to their characters on screen, but there are just too many flaws for me to recommend it.