Growing up, my first "favorite director" was M. Night Shyamalan. Signs was one of the first "grown up" movies I saw in a theater, and it blew my mind. I loved his other earlier films, too. But his career trajectory has always made me a little uncomfortable. He started out as the One with original ideas in supernatural movies, but eventually became entrenched in baffling passion projects. Now he has completed his transformation from a creative genius to an unremarkable used-to-be.
After Earth is just that--unremarkable. I guess to me that is the biggest disappointment. It has some of the hallmarks of a Shyamalan movie, but they are thrown at us like globs of paint. Gone is the thematic finesse we used to expect. It all wraps up in a neat little formulaic package.
The movie is about Kitai and his father Cypher (played by father-and-son Will and Jaden Smith). Cypher is a leader in post-Earth civilization, and brings Kitai along on a trip in order to do some bonding. But the two are stranded after their space ship crashes and Kitai must save them both.
It is the classic story of a kid trying to prove himself to the world, and especially to his successful father. And it doesn't get any deeper than that. He has appropriately-escalating adventures as he seeks to save himself and his father, while trying to master his own fear. The movie tries to insert this thing about fear, about how it is a choice and all. This is the ham-fisted attempt at thematic complexity, and it doesn't come off well. On the surface it sounds like a perfect Shyamalan theme, but it ends up only being moving to fans of the Hallmark Channel.
The movie sticks to established formulas carefully. This is another disappointing thing from a filmmaker whose previous work (even some of the bad stuff) was about at least trying to avoid a formula. It feels like any movie, and notwithstanding its far-future setting doesn't distinguish itself. There is also the weird kind-of accent they speak and the unexplained use of bladed weapons instead of guns that bothered me. But those are just little things.
Overall, I don't think you should go out of your way to see After Earth. Nobody does anything special, and it completes M. Night Shyamalan's journey from visionary to unremarkable in a sad way. Tell me what you think about it, though, especially if we are on different pages.
by Chase Harrison