By Jonathan Kellam
After Earth (2013)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
★★½ out of★★★★
Jaden Smith – Kitai Raige
Will Smith – Cypher Raige
Sophie Okonedo – Faia Raige
For better or worse, M. Night Shyamalan has returned to the director’s chair and has delivered us the sci-fi adventure After Earth. This is a father-son story set in the future when humans have been forced to leave Earth because everything from eagles to the weather has evolved to kill us. The son is young, hardheaded Kitai who both idolizes and resents his warrior father, Cypher. Their last name is Raige, which is pronounced “Rage”…yeah, okay. Anyway, Mama Raige convinces Cypher to take Kitai to work one day. Frankly, I can’t describe what exactly happened next, but these details aren’t important in a movie like this. All we need to know, is something terrible happens causing the ship to be damaged and crash on Earth. Conveniently everyone but father and son are killed in the crash, although Cypher is badly injured. Kitai must venture alone to the other half of the ship some 100km away to activate the emergency beacon. One the way he faces killer baboons, venomous leeches, extreme weather and even an alien.
There was a time not so long ago when M. Night Shyamalan was being hailed as the next Hitchcock. This was after the release of his third film, The Sixth Sense, which remains one of my favorites. His favor started to slip three films later with The Village and it was all but gone after his next release, Lady in the Water. I stayed on the bandwagon a little longer. I actually very much enjoyed both The Village and Lady in the Water, although admittedly they were a step down from The Sixth Sense. Then The Happening came out and I absolutely hated it. I hoped it was a fluke, but then came The Last Airbender, which is possibly one of the worst movies I have ever seen. However, even after this I still held out hope. After all, every director has a few duds. After Earth is a big improvement over his last two ventures, but it is still largely inferior to his earlier movies.
My biggest gripe with this movie is that it was just so clearly a vehicle for Jaden Smith. It was actually his father, Will Smith, who was the main architect behind After Earth, not M. Night Shyamalan, who was approached by Smith to direct the film. Apparently Will Smith intended for this to be the launch of a major franchise spawning sequels, books, comic books, and action figures, all presumably to skyrocket his son to the same status he has enjoyed. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Jaden Smith isn’t a bad actor, but he has not an ounce of the charisma or presence his father has. The second issue I had is with how misleading the advertising has been concerning the size of Will Smith’s role. This was probably the easiest paycheck he’s ever made.
Now, it might seem that I have a very negative opinion of this movie based on my review so far. This isn’t the case. It earned its two and a half stars. It’s just unfortunate that the movie had the issues it did because beyond those it was a sufficiently entertaining film with an interesting story and impressive visual effects. I admired its thoughtful consideration as to what humans in the future might be like. The accent the characters spoke with has been subject to ridicule from some, but I found it quite appropriate. Our grandparents and great-grandparents spoke a little different than us, did they not? Also the climax involving a fight with a vicious alien on top of a volcano was pretty intense.
You know how for some movies people either love it or hate it? After Earth is kind of the opposite. I think most people will at least find it mildly entertaining, but I don’t think very many people will consider it a great movie. This is one that is perhaps best left to waiting for it to stream on Netflix.