Film Review: After Earth

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After-Earth-Movie-Poster-2013-1280x8001

Plot: Many years into the future, Earth has been classified as a quarantined planet. Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a legendary Ranger, and his son Katai (Jaden Smith), crash land on Earth, and are the only survivors. With Cypher injured, Kitai must retrieve a homing beacon in order for them to get rescued, and face the perilous evolved creatures that now inhabit Earth.

Will Smith is a frustrating actor, because he’s so damn good in everything he does, yet his decision making process just seems a bit off. It’s not that After Earth is a bad movie, but just like Hancock, Men in Black 3, and Hitch, he continues to be in these ‘eh’ films. And in After Earth, he drags his son along with him, Jaden Smith. And really, they are the only characters for the majority of the film, with the story much more focused on Jaden’s character, Kitai.

The best word to describe Jaden Smith’s performance is … inconsistent. In the first scene, he delivers a voice over, basically giving the back story for this whole universe. The narration is horribly delivered. It’s so bad, I had trouble following along the story. But as the film went on, Jaden’s performance seemed to improve, much like the character. Kitai’s big moment is when he delivers this monologue that’s basically a big ‘FU’ to his dad, and despite being a little whiney, Jaden does a solid job. While I’m sure many other kid actors could have done something better, Jaden is okay in the role, and good enough for me to follow along on his journey.

And Kitai’s journey is the biggest element to this film, as he desperately wants to prove his valor to his dad, who’s basically this legendary soldier. Kitai is smart, physically able, and excels in all trainings. But unfortunately, Kitai has ‘Tony Romo Syndrome,’ and melts under real pressure. Kitai’s whole character is that he’s a coward due to an excessive amount of family baggage that he needs to let go of. While this character arc works for the most part, they waaaaaaaay over play the whole cowardice thing to the point where Katai seems a little too pathetic. It’s hard for the audience to go along with this kid because he’s so whiney, but you empathize with him just enough.

But the much better character and performance is obviously Will Smith as Cypher Raige, who’s basically the ultimate bad ass of this future world. And this is a very subdued performance from Smith. There have been some complaints about his accent, but I like the voice, as it gives Cypher a very distinguished personality, and really fits the character. Smith does a lot with very little. When Cypher is delivering instructions to his son about retrieving this beacon, Smith just commands the screen, even with mundane dialogue like this. There’s this whole running line of dialogue where Cypher continuously tells his son to ‘take a knee,’ in an effort to calm him down. Smith’s best moments are when Cypher has to get tough with his son. And I was actually more interested in watching Cypher attempt to mend his injuries, as opposed to Kitai running around from random animals.

Speaking of animals, there’s a lot of them, and this is where the main action scenes derive from. The action is pretty solid all around, and director M. Night Shyamalan actually delivers some good jump moments. There’s a really intense air stand-off between Kitai and this eagle, and he ends up in this nest that was actually pretty unnerving. The problem though are the visuals, and this was really apparent from the trailers. The CG is just piss poor. And while special effects usually aren’t a big thing for me, it was noticeable.

And while the movie was extremely predictable, it keeps you on your toes, except for the final action scene. It’s not that it was bad, but there’s this whole alien thing that wasn’t explained very well, so when it gets to that inevitable climax, it loses some luster.

There’s nothing special about this movie, as it’s pretty paint by numbers sci-fi. But there’s nothing terrible about it either. The relationship between Kitai and Cypher is the soul of the film, and that actually works pretty well. The best moments are when Cypher has to talk Kitati through something really dangerous. And in a world where movie run-times have been a serious problem the last couple years, I appreciate M. Night editing this under two hours. After Earth … not bad, but Will Smith is being wasted in too many mediocre films.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better Than ‘Meh’)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.