How bad is After Earth? It’s so bad there’s probably at least 10,000 words one can write about it and still not be able to cover the depths of how awful this film is. It’s easily among the worst of 2013 and is in the team picture for worst film of the decade, if only because of its prominence and spectacular failings at the box office. It should be there because it’s just an awful film, pure and simple.
It’s got a simple premise: Will Smith and his son Jaden are father and son 1,000 years from now on the new home for humanity. They have futuristic sounding names, of course, as Cypher Raige and his son Kitai but this is essentially Will and one of his untalented kids playing father/son action duo. Cypher is this legendary badass who’s mastered the art of “ghosting,” the ability to not feel fear. As such he’s now a General and a walking, talking futuristic version of every Will Smith character ever. Except emotionless, of course, as subsiding fear also makes one act wooden and stiff apparently.
Earth became inhospitable to mankind and a new planet was chosen, of course, and not everything was as simple as finding a new home. That was due to aliens wanting the new planet, of course, and they dropped in their own biological weapons that hunted humans through their pheromones. They can’t see you if they can’t smell your fear, of course, and Cypher’s inability to be emotional has led to a strained relationship with his son.
It all comes into play when they wind up crash landed on Earth. Cypher’s legs are broken and as such he has to guide his son to the emergency beacon several days journey away. Thus father and son have to work together to get to the beacon, the son doing the work while the father stays and quarterbacks from the crashed ship remains.
The film suffers because of a number of massive, massive flaws but the biggest one is Jaden Smith. He’s gone from being an untalented child actor to an untalented young adult actor and somehow has managed to find himself in another high profile film with his father. He has some screen presence but isn’t a good actor, not by any stretch of the imagination, and doesn’t have enough charisma to make up for it. This isn’t the case of someone like Channing Tatum, who isn’t all that talented but has a magnetism that makes up for it. Jaden Smith is just another bad actor in a big film with nothing he does making him look like he belongs there.
It’s easy to joke about this being nepotism but Smith isn’t ready for this level spotlight right now and might not be, ever. It’d be one thing if he had his father to work off of but the two have issues on the screen in more ways than just character based. The duo previously starred in The Pursuit of Happyness together and the son was the weak part of that film, as well, and its even more pronounced here. Why?
Because the Smiths have no chemistry with one another on screen.
It’s fascinating in an odd way that the father/son duo can’t even pass for that on screen despite it being a biological certainty. The younger Smith looks like him, as well, but there’s nothing between them that makes us believe that they’re related outside of cursory ones. It’s as if the screenplay, which was inspired by a story from the senior Smith, opted to go “everyone knows their related, so why bother” type of motif to it. In the early phases of the film, when it’s needed, there’s nothing substantial about their relationship that makes us care. Big moments are revealed later but well after they’re needed. We don’t care about their relationship on any nominal level early and it kills the film’s momentum.
The film feels more unfinished than anything else; this is a film that needed a revamp before shooting as its flawed substantially. It’s a beautifully constructed film from an a/v standpoint but there’s nothing from it on a story level to get us interested. Couple this with a profound lack of anything resembling good acting from all involved and you’ve got the lowest point of Will Smith’s career by far.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan Writer:Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, based on a story by Will Smith Notable Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith