Warning: Minor spoilers ahead, but it’s nothing that you can’t deduce from the trailer.
It’s 1000 years after a global disaster forced humans to leave the planet. Everyone has weird accents and amazing diction and eats with 3-pronged chopsticks. A no-nonsense space commander, played by Will Smith, and his eager-to-please son, who is played by–you guessed it– Smith’s real son, Jaden Smith, crash-land on Earth, which has somehow evolved to kill humans, despite no humans being there for ten centuries. With his fearless father badly injured, the boy must traverse the perilous landscape to get to an emergency beacon and signal for rescue. In the process, he also locates his masculinity and finally gets some respect from his dad.
It’s a story credited to Will Smith, pitched clearly as a starring vehicle for his son (which is ironic, considering the Fresh Prince famously turned down Django Unchained because he didn’t think Django was the main character). This Trojan horse approach to boost Jaden’s celebrity fails largely because you have one of Hollywood’s biggest stars sitting on the sideline for the entire film, watching his son play action hero in what comes across as the world’s most expensive acting class. Jaden does his best when he’s performing stunts, which are commendable in their own right, but it’s Will Smith that undoubtedly holds the audience’s attention for 100 minutes.
I can’t believe I’ve blabbed for two paragraphs without mentioning M. Night Shymalan, who co-wrote and directed this swiss cheese picture (because it’s full of holes! *cues the rimshot*). Apparently the studio’s advertising department finally realized it is not smart to put “from the man that brought you The Last Airbender,The Happening, and Lady in the Water…” on billboards and posters. M. Night doesn’t do much to redeem himself here, as After Earth is yet another exercise in absurdity for the filmmaker. In an effort to put a different world on the screen, Shymalan pens ridiculous dialogue and stages ludicrous twists that are only held together by how seriously Will Smith is taking the proceedings. Well that, the phenomenal score by James Newton Howard and the seriously Oscar-worthy sound editing– all the summer blockbuster essentials.
If I’m being honest, After Earth is a perfectly watchable excuse-for-a-sci-fi film that completely banks on Will Smith’s star power to propel a preposterous plot that breaks up hilarious amounts of expository dialogue with occasionally exciting action sequences. See it, but don’t expect much unless you’re a 12-year-old boy. And if that’s the case, enjoy the rush of sneaking into this PG-13 adventure, Little man.