Now Playing: Unhappily Ever ‘After’

‘After Earth’ has a bunch of good things going for it. Will Smith is the biggest box office draw in the business right now, and his son Jaden has proven to have decent acting chops. This film’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting takes place on different planets in the far-off future, and includes lots of aliens, spaceships and cool weaponry. This seems like a perfect recipe for a massive summer blockbuster. However, despite these seemingly cool aspects, the movie comes up short and never fully delivers on its promise.

A decade or two ago, if I were to tell you that M. Night Shyamalan was making a sci-fi epic, you probably would have foamed at the mouth and been first in line to purchase tickets. I put myself in that category. With films like ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘Unbreakable’, and ‘Signs’, Shyamalan was one of the best directors and storytellers of that time. Unfortunately, soon after that, it seemed like he died and was possessed by the soul and mind of Ed Wood, Jr. when he made movies like ‘Lady in the Water’, ‘The Happening’ or ‘The Last Airbender’. It’s as if Shyamalan decided that he wanted to be the worst director in Hollywood. Within a few years, he held that title. Once upon a time, studios would market a movie with Shyamalan’s name above the title. Nowadays, he’s not even mentioned in any of the marketing for ‘After Earth’.

That being said, this is a giant step in the right direction after the disastrous ‘Airbender’. It feels as if, after that failure, Shyamalan is at least giving it the old college try again and wants to appease everyone. The movie has some great moments, but also tons of clichés. The whole thing is also very predictable, which is not Shyamalan’s former style.

Through its 100 minute run-time, we focus mostly on two characters: Cypher Raige and his son Kitai. Over 1,000 years in the future, the people of Earth have fled the planet due to devastating events and have re-settled on a new planet outside our solar system. On this new world, humans have built large structures to house themselves and developed some very neat technology in the form of computers, spaceships and weapons. However, an alien species that resembles the bugs from ‘Starship Troopers’ also lives there. These aliens track their prey by sensing fear, and since humans display fear a lot, we’re easy targets.

Cypher is the leading commander in a peacekeeping military unit. His job is to discover new territories to settle and to destroy these aliens. Because he shows no fear, he’s able to move closely between the aliens during battle. Cypher also tends not to show any other emotion, as he strictly adheres to a military officer’s persona. His teenage son Kitai wants to be just like his heroic dad, but is rebellious and can’t seem to pass a certain test in military training. In order to bond with his son, Cypher agrees to take Kitai on a mission, during which their spaceship runs into an asteroid field and is badly damaged, forcing them to land on the nearest planet, which just happens to be Earth.

With their ship split in half, Cypher takes a bad injury to his leg and loses a lot of blood. Kitai, on the other hand, is virtually unharmed. His dad informs him that their distress beacon is broken and supplies are running low, but that the tail section of the ship contains another distress beacon and more supplies. That part of the ship is a several day hike in the wild and dangerous new Earth. In order to save his father and his own life, Kitai must face his past demons and trek through some very menacing situations.

The story tries to conjure up a tear or two, but the cheesy way it’s told and the lack of time the characters are given to develop causes any genuine moments to get lost. This is unfortunate, because the movie could have been much better. The visual effects of the evolved Earth animals are stunning and look real, however the big alien bug looks like a lazy design, possibly rejected from a previous film. As far as the directing goes, Shyamalan’s visuals are beautiful and even haunting at times. I just wish he could stay true to himself and not succumb to so many Hollywood clichés.

Will Smith’s character doesn’t show a lot of emotion and is confined to a chair for most of the film. He does a decent job, but I’ve seen better from him in other movies. The real star of the show is Jaden Smith. He’s amazing in this role and shows growth as an actor. He struggles with his relationship with his dad and with his fears of being alone and unable to accomplish a task, but then turns that around and shows confidence that makes us believe he’s truly a star. This is his moment to shine.

For some reason, the characters in this movie have a strange accent throughout. I’m not sure why that is, but it can be somewhat distracting. It’s like a cross between Jar Jar Binks and the dialect from the future portions of ‘Cloud Atlas’. It feels unnecessary.

With Will Smith’s star power, ‘After Earth’ should make a decent opening weekend box office gross, but I doubt that people will want to see the movie again. This isn’t a triumphant comeback for director M. Night Shyamalan, but it could be a lot worse.

Rating: ★★½☆☆


  1. NJScorpio

    I’ve been excited about this movie (more so than Oblivion). While this review tempers my expectations, seeing M. Night Shyamalan is involved has severly impacted my enthusiasm.

    • NJScorpio

      To be clear, I liked most of Shyamalan’s movies, and even was entertained by ‘Lady in the Water’, but his name is a ding to my confidence in this movie being as awesome as I wanted it to be.

  2. bhlombardy

    Can I object a moment? While I’m sure it’s a matter of opinion… “Will Smith is the biggest box office draw in the business right now, and his son Jaden has proven to have decent acting chops. ”

    Will Smith is not the biggest BO draw these days. Maybe 5-10 years ago, but not in 2013. Nor does Jaden possess “decent acting chops” I’m afraid.

    While I still believe the movie is more hype than hope, Mr Kluger lost a few credit points with a lead-in comment like that.

    • NJScorpio

      I kinda agree on the Will Smith comment, though I don’t know who supplanted his position. He was of a Tome Cruise status, and still can pick and choose what he wants, but I don’t think he is a hot commodity anymore.

      Perhaps his son will be in the next 5 years.

      • As of last year, Forbes reported that Tom Cruise was still the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. He earned $75 million between May 2011 to May 2012. That was double his nearest competitors, Adam Sandler and Leonardo DiCaprio with $37 million each. Will Smith was in the Top 10 with $30 million, tied with Johnny Depp.

        I tried to search for which actors were the top box office draws, but all I found were lists with cumulative totals across each actor’s entire career. That’s not really fair, though. Tom Hanks (the #1 name) has been working a lot longer than Will Smith, but the movies he’s made in recent years don’t have anywhere near Smith’s current box office power – except for Toy Story 3, which was marketed on the Pixar brand and not Hanks’ name.

        Regardless, I think it’s pretty clear that Will Smith is certainly one of the biggest box office draws in the business right now. Whether he’s currently #1 or a couple places down the list doesn’t negate the point that Bryan was trying to make.

        As for Jaden’s acting, that’s going to be a matter of opinion. He received quite a few respectable notices for his work in the Karate Kid remake.

        • NJScorpio

          Thanks for pulling up the info! I do agree that Will Smith is still a draw, but it feels like a decline. I don’t recall anything notable he did since ‘I Am Legend’ (which itself was a remake) aside from an unnessicary third MIB.

          While personally, while I would think that Tom Hanks is a much bigger drawn that Adam Sandler, your link shows my opinion doesn’t jive with the rest of the movie going public. Still, that is money earned, not ability to draw a crowd. If someone churns out 2 movies a year, the could garner less of a crowd than someone who only has 1 movie every few years.

      • This movie is about the relationship between father and his son, with main focus on the son. Tom Cruise would definitely have turned down this role. Will Smith probably would have if it weren’t for his son. MIB movies are probably the kind of movie best suited for Will Smith.

        Tom Cruise deserves to be the highest paid actor. He hardly plays a bad movie.

  3. So, just so I’m clear here, the lead character of this movie (played by L’il Smith) is actually named “kitty rage”? And neither Will Smith (a producer on the movie) nor any of the studio executives who invested at least $130 million in it, found this at all… odd?

    Honestly, I think Shyamalan is just punking everybody now. His entire career is an elaborate prank to see how much he can defraud Hollywood out of and still get away with it. For his next screenplay, he’ll just take a dump on a sheet of paper and insist that he needs at least $200 million to produce it. And somebody will give it to him, requiring that he up the stakes even further for the one after that.

  4. Drew

    No, Josh, the character’s name is “Kitai”. (Pronounced – “Kih-Tye”)

    I don’t know where you got “Kitty” from, or who duped you into thinking that it was “Kitty”.

    Besides — And don’t take this the wrong way. I’m neither disagreeing with you, nor defending Shyamalan. — Shyamalan had nothing to do with the naming of the Characters. Even if it was “Kitty”, or even if you feel that “Kitai” is just as bad, that’s all on Will Smith. Call him out! Direct your Vitriol towards him!

    After all, what on earth — no pun intended — has Smith turned his career into, these days?!? Turn down ‘Django Unchained’, for this?!?!?!

    • The characters in the movie speak with a stupid accent, and the spelling is “futuristic.” The kid’s name is Kitty Rage. If that was Will Smith’s fault, it’s not like Shyamalan did anything to fix it.

  5. Drew

    No, it’s not. You’re wrong. However, you can’t be wrong about anything. We all know that.

    The name, and its pronunciation have nothing to do with the futuristic accent. There are kids today, named “Kitai”.

    How you are deriving “Kitty”, from “Kitai” is mind boggling to anyone with even a basic understanding of language, and their effect on names. If “Kitai” is “Kitty”, I guess “Joshua” is “Joeshuhah”.

  6. Drew

    I’ve seen the film, Josh.

    You shouldn’t even be commenting on this, as you haven’t seen the film.

    You’re merely going by rumors, and other things that you are reading.

  7. Drew

    Uh huh, yep, you were being sarcastic.


    That’s why you became so defensive, when I attempted to clarify the characters actual name for you.