It's time for the Internet to light up with endless complaining: M. Night Shyamalan has a new film in cinemas! This time Sean "Keanu Grieves" Hanson adds to the wailing chorus, because M. Night's Will and Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth displeases him mightily. Next up is Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison with The Purge, which begs the question of just how poorly conceived a film's premise can be. Rounding out this slate, Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider scrutinises some magic trickery in Now You See Me, and Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade enjoys his vacation in the Java Heat.
EXPECTATIONS: Jaden Smith in a movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan? Oh, what fresh hell is this?
REALITY: Once upon a time, M. Night Shyamalan was supposed to be the next Alfred Hitchcock. But maybe he was Roland Joffé all along: Unbreakable was his Killing Fields, and now we're in the decade-long Super Mario Bros./Captivity stretch. Even the rumors surrounding After Earth, about how Shyamalan was really an assistant to shadow-director Will Smith, stink of late-era Joffé.
After Earth is clearly a vanity project for Will and Jaden Smith, a movie for people who weren't yet born when Curt Kobain said "The only thing to fear is fear itself." That's the message of After Earth, in which an asshole (Will) and his asshole son (Jaden) crash on a hostile planet (Earth) and face a monster that "literally smells fear" (the Church of Scientology legal team). The dad, Cypher Raige (no shit, that's an actual character name), is a ten-star general who became the master of his own pheromones (a process called "ghosting") and, as such, is kind of a badass when it comes to dealing with these monsters.
The thing is, he's a distant father (aren't they all?), and his son, Kaita, has spent his entire life (all 14 years of it!) trying to earn his father's approval. Kaita gets his chance when Cypher is paralyzed during the crash and he has to journey through the wilderness to the spaceship's detached tail to find a beacon transmitter, because even though technology's gotten pretty crazy by 3013, spaceships still aren't smart enough to signal for help when they get torn the fuck in half. That's a lot of plot, and a lot of bullshit, resulting in an overstuffed 100-minute movie that feels interminable.
Proof that Will Smith directed this film!
If IMDb trivia is reliable, After Earth started with a simpler premise: A camping trip, an accident, a wounded dad, a son who must walk back to town for help. While that may be ripped from the Gary Paulsen Guide to Young Adult Plots, I'd rather watch a well-drawn cliché than a sci-fi pseudo-epic in which everything - everything - feels half-baked and wrong. Apparently, master thespian, creative powerhouse and main moneyman Will Smith decided The Boy Who Loved Tom Gordon wouldn't do, so he jumped this movie a thousand years into the future, added spaceships and shit, etc.
From such a traditionally likable actor, Smith's hubris is ugly and galling. And gone is the jocular, street-smart Will Smith. Here, Will Smith grimaces. He never cracks a smile. He spends most of the film confined to a cockpit, barking orders at his son, who can't yet carry a movie on his own. This is a cynical, inhuman cash-grab and a film at odds with itself, in which most of the horror stems from future man's fear of nature, which itself is a beautiful construct of location photography and computer-generated imagery. Elements from The Grey creep in at the fringes, but After Earth lacks all joie de vivre; apparently, The Grey wasn't somber enough for the Smiths.
Speaking of which, there's a strange moment in which Kaita slaps a baby bird - a tiny, defenseless, fresh-from-the-egg baby bird - simply for preening him while he sleeps. (For our readers who count themselves amongst After Earth's target demographic, a "bird" is kind of like a small spaceship with feathers and a heartbeat.) That's a hard act to justify for any character in a PG-13 adventure film, but Kaita does it without blinking, and After Earth doesn't pause to consider that its central character is a giant fucking asshole because, hey, that's Will Smith's son and Will Smith paid a lot of goddamn money so you could admire him.
The tragedy of After Earth is that in scenes - nay, seconds-long slivers of scenes - Shyamalan proves that he still has raw talent, but he keeps squandering it on projects that aren't suited to his strengths. Hitchcock was Hitchcock because he knew what type of movie he could do well. In trying to break the mold he cast for himself, Shyamalan has painted himself into an uncomfortable position, that of the director-for-hire. What a shame.
|Visual Effects and Cinematography||8/10|
|Cameos||Mike From Homeland and Roy From The Office (10/10)|
MINORITY REPORT: Does Will Smith do that bizarre voice from the trailers through the entire film? It's like Colonel Sanders meets Morgan Freeman with a sprinkling of Michael Jeter thrown in for good measure. - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison
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Better than expected, and absolute garbage
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