“Fear is not real”: ‘After Earth’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - February 15, 2017
“Fear is not real”: ‘After Earth’ Review

The post-apocalyptic genre has seen a plethora of great films that have made an impact on the movie world with thought provoking ideas and engaging visuals, buts it’s also had a lot of bad movies. After Earth is one of the latter.

The main story is that after a horrible disaster that leaves Earth unhabitable, humanity is forced to retreat and settle on another planet called Nova Prime (no relation to the Guardians of the Galaxy character). But when Nova Prime is invaded by fear seeking aliens, Cypher Rage (Will Smith) – yes that’s his real name – goes on his last mission with his son Kitai Rage (Jaden Smith) and crash lands on a now quarantined version of Earth. Yes, Kitai Rage is also a real name. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan and written by him and Gary Whitta, from a story by Will Smith; After Earth is a strange mix of talent that never comes together to create something memorable.

Everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans, so Kitai must rely on his fearlessness if he intends to survive all while trying to prove to his father that he can become a part of the Ranger Corps. The film is filled with potentially great storytelling but it’s so uncharacteristically dull and terribly acted that it completely wastes any sort of opportunity that it could have. At its core, this is a family story (which is a central theme in a myriad of M. Night Shyamalan’s films), but the father/son dynamic is so one note and incredibly uninteresting that it’s painfully boring to watch Kitai and Cypher talk to each other.

It’s rare to say that your main characters have almost no chemistry with each other but its more unique when its real life father/son playing them. What’s unforgivable about After Earth is that it takes Will Smith – one of the most charming and charismatic actors of his generation – and makes him someone of devoid of personality or emotion. Granted, that’s his character, Cypher has mastered the art of ghosting where he can control to feel or show fear, but it just ends up feeling utterly dry. Thanks to this choice there’s absolutely no emotional connection that one can have with Cypher and to that extent with his son as well. Ultimately, Cypher’s scenes end up being tedious and painful moments of expositional scenes where he just watches Kitai survive the planet while he’s letting his son know what to do.

It truly is shocking how little chemistry they both have as the entire premise of the film revolves around them. This is a movie that should’ve had a powerful and emotionally gripping relationship, but it never shows that in any meaningful way. However, even though the main story and some of the themes regarding fear and what choices we make are not well thought out, some of the visuals are pretty impressive. It’s a film that’s shot by renowned cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (The Empire Strikes Back, The Vanishing, Mars Attacks!), who has a great eye for memorable images on screen and scored by Academy Award nominee James Newton Howard, whose score for this film is suitably grand and adventurous.

Ultimately it’s a shame that while some visuals are interesting and Shyamalan comes up with a couple of novel set pieces, the whole film never comes together as something special because you don’t care about these characters. It also has a kind of cool supporting cast that includes Sophie Okonedo, Glenn Morshower, Isabelle Furhman and Zoe Kravitz, but their talents are completely wasted in a pretty disappointing entry in M. Night Shyamalan’s career.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.
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