M. Night Shyamalan has made a name for himself as “the maestro of twist endings”. Although it’s a tactic he has used countless of times throughout his film career, the gimmick has taken its toll on audiences. Many have lost all faith in the Sixth Sense director, including Hollywood executives who have been very subtle about his involvement with After Earth, even removing his name from a number of posters and trailers. By the standards of his recent films, After Earth, a one-note sci-fi drama, is an improvement, but probably holds one of the biggest twists in his filmography yet – there is no twist.
Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.
How the mighty have fallen. It’s a sad day when one of the most promising directors in the business loses his mojo and is forced to play second fiddle and hired hand to the silver spoon Smith empire. After Earth, which serves solely as a vehicle for Jaden Smith to show off his acting chops (or lack thereof), is the most contrived science fiction in recent history.
The story was provided by Will Smith himself, based on the show I Shouldn’t Be Alive, and scripted by a super-team of writers, who include Shyamalan, Gary Whitta (Book of Eli), Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) and Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker). This makes it incredibly difficult to pinpoint the blame for the story’s huge plot holes and flaws. Someone ultimately has to take the fall for things like why Earth has become unfit for human habitation, with everything evolving to kill humans, when humans have in fact been off the planet for 1000 years. Somebody has to answer for how both Cypher and Kitai Raige, the lead characters, had no need for food or water during their three days stranded on Earth. Somebody definitely has to clear up why the carnivorous baboons were afraid of water. Somebody needs to convince us why it would be a good idea to watch a 100-minute film featuring one of the most annoying kid actors today. That somebody, unfortunately, is M. Night Shyamalan, who is taking most of the brunt for After Earth’s failures.
Set in a future where everything Al Gore prophesied about has come true, Kitai Raige is suffering from major daddy issues. He tries everything in his power to impress his distant and militant father, Commander Cypher, a fearless protector of Nova Prime, a planet under the attack of alien beings called Ursa. Impulsively Cypher decides to take his son on a voyage in order for them to bond. While traveling through the cosmos their ship barely escapes a meteoroid shower, travels through a wormhole and crash lands on Earth. The crash leaves the commander and his son the only survivors on a planet bent on killing humans. Kitai is forced to seek help and find the tail of the ship. Directed by his father, who monitors him, he encounters dangers he is ill prepared to face.
Most of the movie is Jaden running, jumping and wailing, interrupted by short flashbacks to his childhood. Despite advice from the much wiser Smith, he panics at every single opportunity and gets him himself into one bad situation after the other. It’s not far into the plot that Kitai becomes one of the most annoying protagonists, fueled by an equally annoying lucky-duck Jaden Smith, who is completely out of his depth. The apple has certainly fallen far from the tree, with the younger Smith falling short of the standard set by his father. Will Smith does his best to shoulder the load, but his memorable performance is only watered down by his the voice cracking child counterpart, who single-handedly ruins After Earth with his constant howling.
Once you learn to accept the flaws and let the silliness run its course, After Earth isn’t a bad film. I don’t blame M. Night Shyamalan for After Earth’s problems, most of those we owe to Jaden Smith. Such a pity there wasn’t a twist.