After Earth has a lot of backstory. And a lot of explaining from both Kaitai (Jaden Smith) and his father, Cypher (Will Smith), as if the screenwriters, M. Night Shyamalan being one of them, didn’t trust that the audience could figure out that the Earth was ruined by pollution and overrun with hungry aliens that have a taste for human flesh.
Instead, the film relies on Kaitai’s voice-over, spewing some strange futuristic accent that sometimes sound British and other times Southern. Using unnaturally short “y” sounds, we hear a long stor-eh of how earthlings gave up on their home and now reside on a new planet called Nova Prime. The earthbound animals however, have not only flourished, but evolved into massive, angry beasts.
Cypher is the elite commander of the United Ranger Corps and has his teenage son Kaitai scrambling to follow in his footsteps. But Kaitai lacks confidence ever since the death of his sister Senshi (Zoe Isabella Kravitz), for which he blames himself. Cypher seems to also blame Kaitai, but instead of exploring this tension between father and son, both actors seem to have been directed to “shut down” their feelings and behave like rigid Marionettes.
Will Smith — and perhaps Jaden, too — is a good actor. To see him deliver such an uninspired performance is disheartening. But much of the blame is due to the uninspired script.
The problem lies in Kaitai’s character. Teenage boys who can’t live up to their father’s expectations don’t keep attempting to do so. They give up, rebel and act out, purposefully putting themselves in jeopardy with fast cars, easy girls, and hard drugs. If we met a Kaitai who was angry and rebellious, we’d probably actually feel something and care. The way he is presented in the movie is as a plain-old wimpy scaredy-cat and Cypher comes off as a bully, while Kaitai’s mother Faia (Sophie Okonedo) makes excuses for her mostly absent husband.
The film also disappoints with tension-free action sequences that do little to impress the eye or heart rate. Instead, father and son argue over how many lung inhalers Kaitai has left on his solo journey to retrieve a homing beacon. Geesh, I paid $12 for this?
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