Poor M. Night Shyamalan...
It's really weird to see a director be so respected one second and the next have every single one of his projects become the subject of ridicule.
Now, I've seen The Happening.
I get it.
That was one BAD movie, but even as that, I still liked it. It was really entertaining, had some decent ideas in there, despite everything, and was altogether very funny (intentionally so, alas). The Last Airbender did not anger me as much as it did many others. Don't get me wrong, as an adaptation of the cartoon series, it fails completely but as an effects-heavy kids' action flick, I enjoyed it more than a lot of the kid-friendly crap we get these days. It was entertaining and I had fun with it, despite the poor script and shoddy performances from the young cast.
With After Earth, there was a real opportunity to go back to something a little more imaginative, a little more edgy. In a way, After Earth is more imaginative and edgier but it still, sadly, doesn't work.
From a story by Will Smith himself and starring Jaden Smith, After Earth sees our planet become unlivable and people having to fly starships to another planet in order to survive. Once there, aliens attack and after taming them, thanks, in part, to Smith's literally fearless ranger, the latter and his son crash back onto Earth and find that everything there has evolved to kill humans. Incapacitated after the crash, Cypher Raige (Will Smith), sends his son across forests, mountains and volcanoes to find a beacon in the tail of the ship which crash-landed miles away. Armed with a Swiss Army knife-style stick, a wet-suit and a bunch of oxygen eggs (don't ask), young Kitai (Jaden Smith) will have to prove himself and face his fears in order to save his father and himself. It's a good story, gotta give Smith and Shyamalan that, but the problem is nothing is clear about it. The movie is only about an hour and a half long but really it could have used 20 extra minutes to fill up dozens of plot-holes.
The technology we're introduced to is both pretty cool and completely unconvincing. You've got spaceships made of organic materials, completely environmentally-friendly cities, yet we're meant to buy that those army ships, designed to fly through space, don't have shields and can't withstand the odd space rock bump. We're also meant to buy that no-one owns a gun despite a recent alien invasion. Same goes for the kid's super-suit which changes colour whenever danger's near but can't keep him warm when it gets cold. Every single one of their accessories breaks inexplicably and as fun as the futuristic imagery is, it is tainted by a lack of logic or explanation when it comes to the basics of how everything works and what all these fancy things can do. We're introduced to this new world and its technology much too quickly, with priority instead given to Smith's endless monologues and flashbacks involving Zoe Kravitz which are easily the most tedious, corniest parts of this movie. There are inconsistencies even with the plot: animals designed to kill humans saving human lives, some animals have evolved (evolution takes a LONG time, by the way, just sayin') others haven't, Kitai and Cypher never eat or drink once during their entire adventure, it's a bit of a mess if you think about stuff in this movie for more than two seconds.
Otherwise, the film has enough heart that you can tell there was a really good movie in there somewhere. The script, once again Shyamalan's big problem, needed a lot of editing, a lot of polishing. Where the visuals are concerned, Shyamalan knows where to point the camera, he knows how to craft an interesting shot and the special effects are frankly very decent throughout. You just wish more time had been spent taking out all the boring, unnecessary stuff from the script and replacing it with maybe one or two more action sequences and basic knots tying up all those pesky loose ends.
I wouldn't call After Earth a bad film, frankly. It's flawed in pretty much every single way but it looks good and the story is still interesting enough that it'll keep you watching. Plus you can tell Shyamalan cares about these characters and what they're doing so it's hard not to care at least a little bit yourself.
A dud but a dud that's hard to hate.