Much like After Earth, this review is going to be a bit of a confounding thing to endure since the substance behind it is puzzled itself.
Will Smith seems like a levelheaded guy outside of movies. I’m sure there was concise logic behind his story to which he’s credited for in After Earth. If so, there’s been a severe case of “Broken Telephone” during the film’s production that eventually led to M. Night Shyamalan’s retelling using a stuffy screenplay written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta.
Will Smith is also a very charismatic actor and he’s able to use that charisma to his advantage to draw in audiences. It’s that pizazz and wit that makes the roles he plays so exciting. Even when he was generating award buzz for his portrayal of Mohammad Ali in Michael Mann’s Ali, he was still using those built-in strengths to make that performance his own creation.
It’s baffling that Smith would sign on to a project that called on him to strip everything he’s good at away from his central performance. Actors are always searching for new territories to branch out to, and I commend those performers for taking risks with their career. But, the transition can be seamless if the actor holds onto a tiny bit of those attributes that make him an interesting screen presence.
The eldest Smith in After Earth plays an emotion stricken Father named Cypher, who goes around “ghosting” to save his race from dangerous, scary creatures. “Ghosting” means that one becomes a walking void in order to remove all fear to navigate around and attack these pheromone-sniffing beasts.
Removed of all feelings, Cypher ends up in a gruelling accident causing him to be stationary for a large chunk of After Earth. He was monotonous with his flattening line readings, and now he literally has nowhere to go within the film.
Will’s son, Jaden Smith, is in a similar predicament. Jaden has shown growth in roles that pit him with other characters. That same charisma his real-life Father shows stems from his interaction with other actors.
After Earth instead has Jaden playing Kitai, Cypher’s son, who has little involvement with anyone. For a large chunk of the film, Kitai is forced to save the day by venturing off into the woods – by himself – to rescue equipment. Just as Will Smith has been subtracted from his fortitude, Jaden has been taken away from his.
The two wandering vacant performances are complicated anagrams for the film’s clueless director, who usually has a hard enough time guiding competent actors with texture in their characters.
After Earth has no wonder or dazzle to any sort of detail in its physical form or its narrative. The environments and costuming exude staleness and the story itself of family bonding through the most turbulent of times has been tackled halfheartedly. Shyamalan’s film must be “ghosting”.
The apathetic filmmaker disappoints yet again by having his characters speak motivations or communicate directions to each other rather than having his players simply act like human beings. I know After Earth takes place in the future, but this is the work of a passive filmmaker who has done nothing but watch old sci-fis in order to capture the essence of a space-age world.
Another movie with a robotic lead followed these same steps – Meet Dave. Remember that movie where Eddie Murphy plays a spaceship where a smaller Eddie Murphy controls from the inside on a mission to understand Earthlings? Everyone hates that movie, but I know what it’s all about.
I know for a fact that the minds behind Meet Dave love old sci-fi and were deliberately trying to hit those hackneyed habits found in cheesy science fiction. It’s certainly not perfect, but I have fun defending that corny movie because I can piece it together in a way that everything makes sense.
I can’t comprehend After Earth and I’ll never understand it. Quite frankly, that’s ok with me.