Contains spoilers, for all that it matters.
The original idea that After Earth is based upon comes from one William Smith Esq. If that original thought was “Let’s put my son in the movies!”, then it succeeds admirably. If it was an idea that was hopefully going to begat an enjoyable slice of sci-fi then it fails on almost every level imaginable.
Will Smith plays joylessly against type as an emotionless, highly decorated general who must connect with his son, played almost as joylessly by real life son, Jaden Smith. In deference to the new rules for future names thrown up by the success of The Hunger Games, Smith Snr IS Cypher Raige and Smith Jr NEARLY IS Kitai Raige. Humans left Earth an indeterminate time ago after yet again laying waste to their own planet (The eco-fable pointers are heavy handed and ugly to the point of offensive as real life footage of, for instance, the Japanese tsunami of last year is used.), after populating Nova Prime (Bizarre names ran out for planets) the human race is horrified to discover that an inadequately explained race of aliens has engineered another race of aliens specifically to hunt and kill humans by feasting on their fear. Really. After a military mission goes awry due to a vomit of technogabble, Big Smith and Little Smith find themselves the only survivors of a crash landing on a strange planet that is definately the ruined husk of Earth. In an excellently shoehorned way, they also managed to bring one of the fear monsters with them, which escapes.
After the crash the film plays out exactly like the derivative and practically unplayable computer game version that has inevitably been thrown together to accompany the release. Big Willie, finding himself injured and confined to a chair guides his worried little clone through a sucession of increasingly difficult “levels”, using bad props and a sword thing called a cutlass that probably has a whisk attachment and maybe the one that could remove a stone from a shire horse’s hoof. There is a space level, a bit where the controls are explained, a map screen, a jungle level, an ice level, a cave level, a volcano level and a weird level where Kitai has to make friends with a giant fucking bird, before the inevitably unsatisfying “boss” showdown.
Whilst the recent Star Trek sequel threw logic to the wind with gleeful abandon and succeeded through a sheer belligerent exuberance that papered over the plot holes, After Earth hoists itself high through a po-faced seriousness that never, ever cracks. No smiles, no fun, no cleverness or knowing nods with or to it’s parent genre. After Earth sits there, limp and dying, stewing in it’s own illogical leaps that glare back out, daring anyone to question them. Cypher tells his son that everything on Earth has evolved to hunt and kill humans, but how can this be if no humans were present all this time. Earth freezes over almost totally every night due to erratic climate changes but almost the entire film is spent tramping through verdant plant life. If you’re going to give your son a magic mood suit that changes colour to indicate impending danger or toxins in the atmosphere, maybe tell him before it turns black and an angry baboon attacks him……the list could go on.
By the time After Earth mercifully ends the overwhelming conclusion is that Earth doesn’t look too bad, a metaphorical lick of paint and a fairly hefty clean-out of the shed and attic and we could zap back there in a second, especially as on our new planet we get attacked by genetically modified monsters who can smell our fear. Oh, and Cypher continually refers to a lava spewing volcano as a mountain…..and Moby Dick is referenced by mentioning or quoting the book THREE times……and it’s directed by M. Night Shyamalan and that doesn’t make it worse….. and…sorry, we’re done. Absolute garbage.