I’m in the process of reviewing several Razzie-nominated movies, but After Earth is the only one that I actually saw in a movie theater. That’s because I was willing to take the $13-plunge to see if it really was a disaster sooner rather than later. And while this film does have some redeeming qualities, its disastrous qualities are the ones that will stay with you.
To quickly summarize the story — it’s been 1000 years since people moved off of the planet Earth because it became uninhabitable. When Cypher Rage (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith) crash land on Earth, they must use their combined skills to survive on this quarantined planet until they are rescued.
The main complaints I’d heard about this movie were that it was a disaster because M. Night Shyamalan directed and co-wrote it, it was a disaster because if Jaden Smith wasn’t Will Smith’s son he never would have been cast in this movie, and because the story had the creeping sensation of Scientology hanging over it.
Okay, first off, I am not one of those Shyamalan haters. I admire the movies that he made well, and I’m even able to see redeeming features in his movies that are pretty much universally panned. In fact, I think that the first few minutes of The Happening are really cool and incredibly absorbing! There — do you see what I mean?
Now, as to the casting of Jaden Smith … oof. I mean, OOF. Okay, even my acting hero Richard Burton would’ve had some trouble making this dialogue come alive, so I’m not saying the problem is ENTIRELY with the acting. But the complaint about Jaden Smith not being a great actor is … well, it’s fair. Let’s put it that way. He just isn’t a strong enough actor to carry the weight of this movie, and that’s what he has to do. Especially since Will Smith plays a stoic and emotionless character who is slowly dying of his wounds for most of the movie.
And that’s a big chunk of the problem right there. We can argue back and forth about whether or not Jaden Smith is a good enough actor to carry a movie (I say no or at least not YET, but I’m willing to entertain a difference of opinion). But there is no argument about whether or not Will Smith can carry a movie, because we KNOW he can. I mean, you remember Will Smith, right? Fine actor, very charismatic, blockbuster star?
Well, a movie in which Will Smith, the best hope of a movie’s success, is STOIC / COLD / EMOTIONLESS / CATATONIC / LYING THERE WITH BOTH OF HIS LEGS BROKEN AND BASICALLY BLEEDING TO DEATH just takes the potential energy of that movie and lets it evaporate.
Adding to that problem is the casting of Jaden Smith, who cannot maintain the curious and unexplained accent he has at the beginning of the film and who is not charismatic enough to make us believe in him or care about him.
And while I don’t know if the writing of this film was directly or indirectly influenced by Scientology, I can certainly see how the story can be interpreted that way. Just listen to some of the “empowering” things that Will Smith’s character says or think about his superhuman survival skills (including his ability to completely conquer his own fear) and then substitute Tom Cruise for Will Smith in your mind. You’ll get the idea. I mean, it’s either Scientology, or the power of positive thinking, or mind over matter, or The Secret, or SOMETHING along those lines. It’s just another aspect of this story that can take the audience’s credulity past the breaking point.
And then beyond that, there are just too many logic problems in this movie. Some of them you might notice right away, like how the hell Kitai was able to survive for more than five minutes on this planet if one itty-bitty slug creature nearly killed him or how the hell that whole “Rocky the Flying Squirrel” escape worked. Then there are other, larger, logic problems that will just fester inside your brain and continue to irritate you for days afterwards.
Yes, there were some aspects of the film that I enjoyed. I liked the setting of the overgrown and abandoned planet. I liked the new creatures that had evolved there. I liked the weapons that the Rangers used. I liked the Ursa monster. I liked the … um … the fashions? Okay, I’m running out of ideas here.
Overall, if you’re a bad movie buff I think you’ll find enough things in After Earth to entertain you, enough things to make you roll your eyes, and enough things to make you yell, “Oh, COME ON!” at the screen.