Some actors and directors are just so friggin’ bankable. You put them in front / behind the camera and you KNOW you’re going to make big money. Why? Because they have a rabid fan base and you know they’re going to deliver one hell of a memorable film. And if they don’t? Well, you know it’s going to be a fun ride nevertheless. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule; sometimes things go wrong. Normally I’d be one to say that Samuel L. Jackson is in great movies, and they’re generally enjoyable, so combining that with a Sin City esque noir backdrop should work… but you’ve seen The Spirit right? That’s only off the top of my head, and there are a ton of examples of such missteps. So, what about Big Willy, Will Smith? He’s had hit after hit for years now – they really have gone BOOM and SHOOK SHOOK THE ROOM. From the “lows”: (but stupidly successful) wikke-wikke Wild Wild West, to the highs: essentially every other film he’s put his name to, Will Smith has been one of, if not the, most bankable actors internationally. So how does After Earth fair? Are we Gettin’ Jiggy With It? Are we Just Cruisin’? Or is it time to call the Men In Black to cart him away?
Ok, I think I’m about all out of shoe-horning in Will Smith song titles into sentences, but you get the point. The guy’s a legend. After Earth sees him re-teamed with his son, Jaden Smith (seemingly he’s lost his mother’s name in there), in a “future sci-fi epic” wherein Will and Jaden crash land on Earth years after its been abandoned to pursue a life elsewhere in the universe. The aim? To retrieve a beacon that’s some way away so they can get off the planet… and that’s it. That’s the entire premise. Oh, did I mention that Will Smith basically sits down for 2/3 of the film too? I didn’t? Does that add to the excitement for you?
As you can probably tell, I wasn’t enamoured with After Earth. It’s quite honestly one of the dullest movies I’ve seen in recent memory; mercifully it’s kept at a 100 minute run time, as I couldn’t endure any more. This is NOT a Will Smith movie. You will see no humour, you will see no wit. Sure, we’ve seen Will play the serious roles before (Ali, Seven Pounds etc.), but this role is just dry and one dimensional: an elite solider who can “ghost” and avoid aliens owing to his lack of fear (oh yeah, there’s aliens, but they’re not exciting) – he’s also devoid of character. Also, as I mentioned, he spends the vast majority of his time sat down because of a leg injury. There’s very little demanded of Will Smith here, which is a shame as we all know what a talent he is. So, what of Jaden? Well, it’s essentially a Jaden Smith film featuring Will Smith. The trouble? The plot.
The film consists of Jaden Smith just running around a forest avoiding CGI animals. Not crazy, alien animals, no. Mainly baboons and bizarrely man-hungry eagles. And also cutting himself on bushes. This is is. This is your film. Following Jaden in a lycra suit that occasionally changes colour. I wish I was simplifying the movie for you, but I’m really not; it’s simply that dull. The scripting is weak, the plotting is dull and the action is scant on the ground. All with Will Smith uttering some monotonous spiel about fear and danger every five minutes. THEN, when you do finally have the alien section… well, it fails to up the excitement at all. Dull.
This brings me to my next point… the director. We finally see the return of M. Night Shyamalan here. The guy that ruled the world with The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable, before commencing a steady decrease in quality that eventually led to The Last Airbender. So, we see his return, but you couldn’t tell. Having him here seems like a mercenary move to try and bolster some interest in the movie. It has none of his flair and crucially none of his twists. I don’t want this. If he’s going to come back I want him to hit hard with a “classic” Shyamalan, or at least try and attain those same heights again. I don’t want this formulaic, plot-dry attempt at a sci-fi epic. It’s not welcome!
Does After Earth have anything going for it then? Erm… I couldn’t actually tell you. There’s nothing in my mind that I thought “ooo good concept, just poor execution”. It’s just a poor concept with a fantastic lead actor that then proceeds to not use him in the slightest. It perplexes me. Thankfully, Will Smith has an arsenal of films lined up for the next two years, so he’s obviously going to redeem himself for this “blip”, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I’m not really sure why he took the project, considering he’s a guy that can pick and choose roles nowadays. Let’s be fair… it’s not like he needs the money.
So… to sum up this film with another song? Just The Two Of Us. It pretty much epitomises this movie, as there’s very little else to talk about. In fact, you could argue that you don’t really need to mention Will, as he doesn’t serve that much of a purpose here either. Maybe After Earth just needed a catchy Will Smith song to sell it actually? With some “huh”, “yeah” and “jiggy” in the chorus. That’d have had me dancing down the aisles, as opposed to walking out and fearing giant eagles that are CLEARLY man hungry predators on Earth…