May 30, 2013


The metaphor of a young bird leaving the nest is a lesson all children learn, and usually at a young age (it’s just not enforced until much later).  Someone looked at this lesson, must have thought, “I like it, but how can we make it cost over $100 million?”, and the result was After Earth.  It’s not a bad lesson, but it’s hardly enough to support an entire movie.  Resting almost entirely on lead actors Jaden and Will Smith, director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan surrounds the picture with sub-par special effects and bland action scenes.  Jaden Smith provides a strong lead performance, but his character is undermined by the story’s laughably literal moments, and a journey that rarely enthralls and never surprises.

One-thousand years in the future, humanity has fled Earth and resettled on a new planet, Nova Prime.  Unfortunately, aliens also want the planet, and have sent down creatures called “Ursas” to eliminate humanity.  A group of soldiers known as Rangers were called upon to fight the creatures, and the best of them is Cypher Raige (W. Smith), who has the ability to “ghost”.  The Ursas are blind, but can smell the pheromones created by fear.  Cypher can suppress his fear, easily kill Ursas, and thus has become the most recognized and respected general on the planet.  His son Kitai (J. Smith) wants to escape from his father’s shadow, and his abilities are tested when the two crash land on Earth.  Cypher’s legs are broken, so Kitai must trek across the dangerous landscape in order to retrieve a rescue beacon from the tail section of their broken spaceship.


I’ve come to accept the rules provided in futuristic sci-fi stories.  The constant questions are, “Why doesn’t ‘X’ exist?” and “Why do people in the future do ‘Y’?” and After Earth raises those questions.  The main weapon is a shifting blade that has different settings.  But we’re left to wonder why humanity can master space flight but not create guns.  There’s also the characters’ bizarre accent, but like the guns, you just have to let it drop.  After Earth isn’t trying to draw us into a finely-drawn society.  It’s setting up simple details for the larger adventure.  Unfortunately, that adventure never becomes particularly exciting.

The structure is there with escalating stakes and legitimate threats such as Kitai needing to take oxygen tablets every 24 hours, and then pushing the limits of whether or not he’ll have enough to make the journey.  Cypher also has to worry about whether or not he’ll be able to live through his injury, and guide his son back to safety.  In between, the father-son bond is slowly repaired as Kitai mans up, and faces the wild beasts and environmental hazards.  Also, because an Ursa was on their ship and managed to escape, we know what lies ahead at the end of Kitai’s journey.


The clear roadmap turns After Earth into a series of rote events with only Jaden Smith’s performance to provide some life to the proceedings.  Will Smith is stuck inside the broken ship, and his performance consists of being on the verge of tears, partially from the pain and partially from guilt.  The movie mostly rests on Jaden Smith, and he carries it as well as he can.  But even the strength of his performance can’t push past the plot’s more ridiculous aspects.

Putting aside the bland CGI (it’s not the worst in recent years, but it’s certainly dated), the story takes the lesson far too literally.  At one point, Kitai literally has to exit a nest.  Later on, he has to fly even though his father doesn’t think he’s ready.  To expand this simple metaphor into major set pieces feels ridiculous, not only because they’re literal, but because there are so many other ways to create drama.  Kitai fighting off CGI pumas has none of the dramatic effect as another where we see the young man poisoned by a leech, his body quickly seizing up, and his father trying to guide him through administering the antitoxin.  It’s an emotional moment that’s filled with tension.


So it’s odd that the character’s major aspiration is to be free from an emotion.  The notion of “ghosting” is that removing fear is the ultimate ability one can aspire towards.  But that’s not courage.  Courage is acknowledging fear, and fighting through it.  The fear never leaves us, and that internal battle creates drama.  To remove fear entirely is to remove a piece of our humanity, and so how is an ultimate ranger any better than a mindless Ursa?  Just because being fearful is bad, that doesn’t mean being fearless is good.  I can accept the setting of After Earth, but its values are anti-climatic.

This goal is made even worse since we know ghosting is Kitai’s aspiration.  Shyamalan has become infamous for his twists, but here he provides the anti-twist.  It’s a movie that goes exactly where you expect it to.  The irony is that in a story about the importance of leaving the nest, Shyamalan has run to the safest space possible.  He’s done taking chances after the endless backlash, and his atrocious adaptation of The Last Airbender showed he couldn’t even hit a softball down the middle.  After Earth is an even safer bet because it has the bankable Will Smith, and no fanbase to disappoint.  The result is serviceable and forgettable.  Learning the value of courage is important, and After Earth should have adhered to its own lesson.

Rating: C-


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  • Nathaniel Haywood

    This sounds about right. Sad that the Smiths chose a Shyamalan vehicle for their next movie, because that starts them out with four strikes against them. Can’t blame Jaden since Will Smith doesn’t give him a choice of projects, so Will has to own this one. He should’ve known to steer clear on simple principle, and then he should’ve known again once he read the script. I predict that very few people will go to see this movie – and I certainly won’t be one of them. I would like to say that I hope Will’s next movie is better, but according to IMDb he’s developing i, Robot 2, Bad Boys 3, and Hancock 2. So hope is slim to none there…

    • blessed child

      For the same reason Roger Christian was chosen to do Battlefield Earth: There is not that many directors practicing the cult of Scientology

    • Doug_101

      It’s not a Shyamalan vehicle, though. The story was conceived by Smith himself and I believe he co-wrote the script.

  • Jackolo

    I don’t want to conspire, but it seems to me like Smith chose poor hated Shyamalan to helm his project, that shouldn’t entertain audience, thrill or even be courageous, this movie was done just to establish Jaden’s acting career. I really like Will, but now he is like “father of nepotism” who exploits recently failed directors just to make 100 milion demo for his son. Will said that he waited for a good MIB 3 script, so don’t tell me he didn’t see all the bullshit filled in this one.

    • blessed chil

      For the same reason Roger Christian was chosen to do Battlefield Earth: There is not that many directors practicing the cult of Scientology

    • Donella

      If you’re calling out Jaden Smith for nepotism, then I’m calling out the following for nepotism:

      Robert Downey Jr, Ben Stiller, Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, Michael Douglas, Cameron Douglas, Kyle Eastwood, Peter Fonda, John Huston, Angelica Huston, Colin Hanks, Scott Caan, Jake Busey, Josh Brolin, Josh Ritter, Sophia Coppola, Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Gwenyth Paltrow, Rumor Willis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carrie
      Fisher, Emma Roberts, Liv Tyler, Liza Minnelli, Sophia Coppola, Nicolas Cage, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Bridget Fonda, George Clooney, Miguel Ferrer, Lorenzo Lamas, Mamie Gummer, Eva Amurri, Kate Hudson, Kyle Eastwood, Jordan Ladd, Sean Astin, Mackenzie Astin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Kiefer Sutherland, and Miley Cyrus.

      For shame. Oh yeah, We know their names.

  • Tommy

    M. Night Shyamalan, once The Next Steven Spielberg Of The Week, now is a running joke in the movie circles. I can’t understand why studios keep throwing money over his lap, hoping that the flute sounds again (SPOILER It will not sound). Better luck next time, Manoj. I heard Starbucks is hiring people.

    • Tommy, it’s the truth

      Boo. Even if he flamed out Shyamalan still made more good movies (at least one) than you ever will.

      • Northern Star

        I’m not sure that’s what Tommy is saying there, he’s essentially stating what many in Hollywood are thinking if not saying publicly… M Night Shyamalan is seemingly washed up, he shot his last decent creative bolt either 11 years ago or 9 years ago (depending on your opinion, I favor the latter as I really like ‘The Villlage’), and everything since that has been steadily worse!

        With the reviews this film is getting, it may still break-even or even go into modest profit based on Will Smith’s name alone (especially on the international market), but if it royally tanks this weekend, Shyamalan will find it tough getting a gig directing traffic never mind another big-budget project! He recently stated his desire to make smaller, more personal films, possibly independent productions… if ‘After Earth’ goes down like the Hindenburg this weekend, he’ll be going down that route whether he wants it or not, either that of television work!

        It’s a shame to see such a gifted writer/director like Shyamalan reduced to hired-gun status with a reputation now for bad films and flops, but if it humbles him (and he needs a good humbling from what I’ve heard about his supposedly massive ego) and brings him back to Earth with a bump and gets his creative compass pointing back in the right direction, it’ll be worth it, because he was once the most exciting young director working in Hollywood, and now he’s just a running joke, and that’s the saddest thing of all this…

      • mgm5215

        Well, he has a TV show coming out with Matt Dillon, and also the Nightmare Chronicles series. The thing is, people bash him no matter what he does, whetever it’s a personal story, or a blockbuster. And about having a ego, the guy is very humble from what he post on twitter, and a comment of don’t having hard feelings for the critics who bashed Airbender. Shyamalan even took as a joke, Wahlberg hating The Happening.

      • Northern Star

        He may seem that on Twitter but you haven’t had to deal with him on a personal basis, the guy has/had delusions of utter grandeur, believes himself to be a misunderstood visionary or some other nonsense… that character he played in ‘Lady in the Water’ is how Shyamalan sees himself, that’s no joke!

        His ego ballooned to monstrous proportions after his meteoric rise and success, just ask the Disney executives who rightly rejected the vainglorious vanity project that was ‘Lady in the Water’ about good ol’ Manoj, the stories are legendary about him there!

        He’s either so pathologically insecure about himself (reflected in his knee-jerk overreactions to any and all criticism) or is a genuinely sociopathic megalomaniac but one with a God-given gift of storytelling… a gift he could use very well (and indeed did) if only he’d get a reality check and put his ego in a box!

      • Aaron Davis

        Gifted? Are you serious?

  •‎ tarek

    Shyalamanalaman is probably doing some voodoo tricks to keep himself in the business. Such a hack!

    • mgm5215

      Says the guy who has never done a movie.

      •‎ tarek

        I didn’t know that movies are made by directors and for directors.

        Simply brilliant dude. you saved my life.

        Matt Goldberg, from now one, find yourself a new job, ’cause you’ve never made a movie.

      • ScaredForMovies

        Apparently a lot of others think he’s a hack too. This movie is getting destroyed by almost all the critics on Rotten Tomatoes. 12% so far. Yikes. It seems Goldberg went easy on this one.

      •‎ tarek

        I didn’t know that movies are made by directors and for directors.

        Simply brilliant dude. you saved my life.

        Matt Goldberg, from now one, find yourself a new job, ’cause you’ve never made a movie.

    • mgm5215

      Says the guy who has never done a movie.

  • bookofmatchesmedia

    Good review. Balanced. Overall snark free. Hit the major points. A fair overall grade. I can’t believe I’m reading this on the Internet…

  • peter

    does anyone really expected this to be good? come on! its shymalan after all!

  • Randika Perera

    I’m waiting to see the Man of Steel review ;)

  • Hop

    Again, I agree with you this time, Goldberg.

  • Hop

    Oh yeah, and M. Night, you are as vain as the characters you play in your movies. You made one awesome movie, and two mediocre ones, and all the rest are cinematic garbage, not worth watching, not worth even considering.

    Just stop, please just stop!

  • Saltonstall

    My feeling is that the movie is a metaphor for itself: Jaden Smith is forced to act by his father at gunpoint, enduring the horrors of being in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

  • brNdon

    Saw this movie tonight. Another example of how good actors can be directed to act poorly.

  • varelax

    Jaden Smith is the Scrappy Doo of the Smith’s family.

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  • DjangoBro

    You will never catch me watching this in theatres… Not when M. Night is involved, and now Will Smith.

  • lucyb696b

    I don’t believe the press or the critics on this one. They know this movie was set to be one of the summers blockbusters and they are trying to make it fail. I saw the trailer and it was amazing. I want to see it

    • Alex

      just like iron man 3, the trailer lies to you

    • Alex

      just like iron man 3, the trailer lies to you

  • Casey

    Are you fucking kidding me? You gave this movie a C- and you gave Star Trek a D? You have got to seriously rethink that. This movie was absolutely terrible, everything about it was awful. This movie deserved an F, without a doubt.

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  • Aaron Davis

    It all traces back to that twist to the finale of Sixth Sense. It was a good movie with a brilliant ending. But one brilliant ending doth not a director make. Shyamalan’s greatest flaw is he doesn’t care about logical plotlines. Suspending disbelief is not the same as credulity. After the ridiculous aliens from Signs (the ones who had mastered interstellar travel but had no weapons, could be killed by water but WALKED AROUND NAKED!!!) visited a revisionist Earth void of the US military, Shyamalan should have learned better. This time round we get a human race that has perfected interstellar travel and has no guns at all. Either Syamalan doesn’t care about making sense, or he has contempt for the intellect of his audience. In any case, he’s been given so many “second chances” it defies logic almost as much as his storylines do. There are plenty of talented directors waiting for an opportunity. Time to stop flogging this dead horse and send it to the glue factory.