After Earth review

Why do sci-fi writers insist on giving people weird names? Just because a story is set 1,000 years in the future, does that mean there won't be any more Mikes, Bobs and Charlies around? Why do people have to be called Kitai, or Cypher, or Faia?

Funny names is not the biggest problem with After Earth, another nail in the coffin of what was once Shyamalan's promising career. It's set 1,000 in the future, after humanity has abandoned the Earth because it's become uninhabitable, and is now living on Nova Prime. Smith Sr plays Cypher Raige, a general in the United Ranger Corps, a tough military man and a battle-hardened hero. Son Kitai (Smith Jr) is desperate to make his father proud of him, and tries to become a Ranger himself, but fails in his first attempt. Kitai's mother, Faia (Okonedo), suggests a father-son space trip as a way of bonding, but it doesn't end well. The ship is damaged in an asteroid field, and crach-lands on ... yep, you guessed it, the abandoned Earth. Everyone is killed bar the Smiths. Cypher's legs are broken in the crash, so Kitai has to make the 100km trek to where the ship's tail section landed to launch a distress beacon.

Where to start with all the problems in this film? Let's start with the tech. We're 1,000 in the future, yet much of the technology in this film is incredibly fragile and breaks far too easily. Then we have the setup that all animals on Earth have evolved to kill humans on sight. Hear that? It's the sound of Charles Darwin spinning in his grave. Firstly, how could such an evolution occur in just 1,000 years? And secondly, how could all the animals on Earth evolve to kill humans when there are NO HUMANS ON EARTH AT ALL? How do they know WHAT they are evolving to kill? And thirdly, the first animal that Smith Jr encounters on leaving the ship is a bloody big tarantula that crawls across his hand and ... frightens him. Doesn't bite him, or go for his throat like an attack dog. Straight away the movie breaks one of its own rules. And let's not even mention the monkeys, birds or lions. No, the deadliest threat that Kitai encounters is a humble slug.

The biggest problem of all, though, is this. Jaden Smith cannot act. He couldn't act in The Pursuit of Happyness, he couldn't act in The Day the Earth Stood Still, he couldn't act in The Karate Kid and he can't act here. He also has zero screen charisma and can't emote. And when you're the star of the film, have the most screen time and are supposed to be the hero we're all rooting for, that's bad news indeed.  Smith Sr is not that much better here, playing a cold, emotionally cut-off man who struggles to bond with his son. His performance feels wooden, as though he's channelling his son. Star Trek's Mr Spock show's more emotion than this bloke. One of the script's reasons for the coldness is that Cypher is an expert at "ghosting" – hiding his fear so that an alien beast called an Ursa cannot see him. Ursas are blind, see, and can only sense humans by smelling the pheromones given off when they are scared. So a Ranger's greatest weapon is hiding that fear so the Ursa cannot find them. This is the one lesson that Kitai must learn to survive. And guess what happens at the film's climax? Yup.

After Earth, at its core, is a father-son bonding film, a coming-of-age film and a boys' own adventure all rolled into one. But it doesn't quite hit the mark as any of them. There's some gorgeous scenery in the film as Smith Jr goes on his trek, but the look is often spoiled by dodgy CGI. The story drags in places, there are massive logic flaws, and have I mentioned the wooden acting of the two leads? It's certainly not the disaster many are saying it is, but it's certainly not that good. It's been a while since director Shyamalan had a hit film, and sadly for him, this won't be one either.

After Earth at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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