M. Night Shyamalan is back, this time with After Earth; the second film in this year’s peculiar streak of movies that take place after some manner of apocalypse, the first one being Oblivion and the third being the upcoming Elysium. I’m not sure if This Is The End counts, but if it does then that’s another one for ya.
My opinion on After Earth can best be summed up by saying I enjoyed looking at it much more than I enjoyed watching it. What I mean is that, like most Shyamalan films, what he’s really really good at is maintaining a certain tone through the use of camera work, visuals and music. It is when I start thinking of the story and characters that I lose some enthusiasm, and that the serious tone that the film was going for loses 99% of its effect.
The story in question is, of course, set in the future. Earth has been abandoned by humanity shortly after they successfully managed to ruin it, forcing them all to travel to a new world known as Nova Prime. But there are aliens around, bent on destroying them, using creatures known as Ursas which are able to track humans down by sensing their fear, meaning humanity’s only hope is a man named Cypher Raige (Will Smith minus the charisma) who is so badass that he doesn’t have a sense of fear and thus remains invisible to the Ursas. He calls this ability “ghosting”. Are you still with me? Good.
Who are the aliens? Why did they sic those other aliens onto humanity? Doesn’t matter. Let’s flash forward a few years to when Cypher has as a son, named Kitai (Will’s real-life son Jaden Smith), who is all angsty and blames himself for the death of his sister (Zoë Kravitz) during the Ursa attack all those years ago. At this point, only one Ursa is left and held captive by the humans, to use it to teach the younglings how to “ghost” like Will Smith. One day, however, when the Ursa is being transported to, I dunno, somewhere, the ship on which it is stored gets busted by the galaxy’s tightest asteroid belt, prompting the ship to crash on a quarantined planet which, whoop-dee-doo, turns out to be Earth. What a twist!
Oh wait, the movie isn’t over yet.
In what I assume is a call back to Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, both Cypher and Kitai survive the crash that killed the rest of the crew. But Cypher is unable to walk so it is up to his son to venture onto the unpredictable and barely habitable post-apocalyptic Earth to find the back-end of the ship, which contains a transmitter they can use to send for help, whilst fighting off ferocious animals, avoiding the Ursa that survived the crash and forming a bond with his father that goes beyond their military ranks. How all the animals are able to breathe perfectly while Kitai needs to consistently drink flasks of that liquid oxygen thingy from The Abyss, why he doesn’t have bigger flasks of it and how it’s more practical than a space suit is anyone’s guess.
But little bottles of oxygen is not the only thing that doesn’t makes sense in this film. You’ll most likely find yourself wondering why the supposed ship wreckage looks like bamboo and toilet paper, why lava is so cold that Jaden Smith can easily hop over some small decorative rivers of it, why anyone in their right mind would let ultimate badass Will Smith sit a whole movie out, doing nothing aside from stoically explaining the plot to his son and us, and of course, why one of the many sad flashbacks to when Kitai’s sister was alive has her look like a zombie in what’s possibly the most pointless jumpscare since any scene from the first 80 minutes of Paranormal Activity 4. Then there’s the design of the Ursa, which is yet another alien creature that looks like the Cloverfield monster. Yawn.
The only thing this film has going for it, again, is the way it looks and sometime feels. M. Night Shyamalan is good with that sort of thing and I still try to remain optimistic about him. Signs was terrible, but even there I loved what he did with the tone and suspense. What he might need is to collaborate with people of greater talent. A more competent co-director and another script writer altogether. Let Shyamalan manage the tone plus feel and leave the rest to some other filmmakers and we might just end up with a good film. But who knows?
As it is, After Earth is pretty laughable. I had fun laughing at some of the scientific errors, plot inconsistencies and Jaden Smith’s acting and I did like some of the shots so maybe I can recommend it if that’s all you need. Otherwise, I would advice that you spend your money on tickets for Man of Steel.