Movie Review: After Earth
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Everything you need to know about why “After Earth” doesn’t work can be found in the line, “Everything has evolved to kill humans.” (Warning: plot spoilers abound, but even though this is an M. Night “Remember when I was considered a genius?” Shyamalan movie, there are no surprise twists. Boy, could it have used some.)
It is 1,000 years after humanity left Earth. A stone-faced Will Smith is Cypher Raige (yes, that last name is pronounced “Rage”), a general in the Ranger corps on the colony of Nova Prime.
He is a distant, military man, devoted to his duty, good at his job, most of which involves killing giant, hideous bug monsters called Ursas by controlling his fear, which the Ursas can smell. This is called “ghosting.” (I am not making any of this up, and all of it is crammed into the first minute or so of the movie.)
In a wife-ordered attempt to bond with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who wants to become a Ranger like dad, Cypher and son head off on what is supposed to be a low-key mission. Something goes wrong and their ship crash-lands on … Earth!
Cypher is injured in the wreck. In a strange accent that one can only describe as Formal and Vaguely Southern 1,000 Years from Now, Cypher tells Kitai he must find the ship’s emergency beacon, which has crashed in the tail of the ship a few days’ walk away. He also tells Kitai, solemn as the grave, that “Everything (on this planet) has evolved to kill humans.”
One tries not to get cranky about bad science in sci-fi blockbusters, but this is a staggeringly dumb idea.
Firstly, evolution doesn’t work that fast, especially in bigger, more complicated animals with longer lifespans. Secondly, a species cannot evolve against something that is not there. No humans means nothing can evolve to kill them. (What is most infuriating is that a very simple script fix could have solved this. Change “evolved” to “has been bred” and you’re fine. There’s even a vague back story involving another alien species that would have made this fudgeable! But no.)
It sounds like nitpicking, but it’s symbolic of the misplaced focus that happens again and again in this frustrating, poorly paced, muddled movie.
Directed by Shyamalan after a script by him and Gary Whitta based on a story by Smith, the tone of “After Earth” is pitched somewhere between children’s fable and video game.
Kitai moves from danger to danger, armed only with his father’s double-bladed sword thing and a hard backpack of minimal supplies. (There is even a subplot involving a breathing stimulant that might as well represent a power-up in a game.) Look out for the vicious monkeys! Beware the enormous bird!
Apparently on Earth 1,000 years from now, temperatures fall incredibly rapidly, a temperate climate full of Humboldt County redwoods turning to snow and frost at night (?!?!), then temperate by morning. (Now that I think about it, maybe they landed in the Hill Country.)
Make sure you get to the thermal vent for warmth before it gets dark! And watch out for the volcano (no, really)! And make sure to eat the yellow energy pellets! Oh, wait, sorry.
And did we mention an Ursa (THAT WAS ON THE SHIP!) is loose on Earth, the monster that is more dangerous than anything else, a monster of which Kitai, thanks to a childhood trauma, must conquer his fear?
Very little of this makes logical sense and, what’s more unfortunate, very little of it had to happen. Is this a sci-fi epic, an attempt to birth a star-spanning franchise about the Rangers on Nova Prime (there are more aliens involved, but they are barely touched on) or is this a smaller, more allegorical movie about a dad and his son? Focusing on either one or the other would have made for a more solid movie; in shooting for both, “After Earth” manages to do neither well.