I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: M. Night Shyamalan is one of the comedic masters of our age. He’s a modern day Claudio Fragasso, but with a higher budget. He started with Bruce Willis arguing with a woman who clearly couldn’t hear a word he was saying, went on to an invasion of Earth by hydro-allergenic aliens beaten by comedically placed glasses of water, then we had the comedic masterpieces that were The Village and The Happening. Shyamalan then tried to sell a Scream fanboy as a film critic, before giving us the glorious scene of Uncle Iroh calling on a random young boy for the sole purpose of humiliating Zuko. Let’ s see what he has for us here.
Will Smith plays his hardest role yet as he struggles to portray an actor utterly without charisma, playing a general in what is clearly a propaganda film. The first piece of evidence for this is fairly simple: the opening is narrated by a child who is supposedly military trained yet has all of the military bearing of I Love Lucy, in which it describes Will Smith’s character - a clearly fictional character with the ridiculous name of Cypher Rage - as having been a hero of a war that took place one thousand years before the start of the film.
When Jaden Smith fails to graduate Ranger training - think Special Forces in a setting that doesn’t mention any other branch of the military - allegedly because of falling apart in the field, his General father takes him along for a mission. I say “allegedly” because there is absolutely no military demeanor in this character whatsoever. The ship flies through an asteroid thicket which means their homeworld is somewhere close to the Hoth system, which results in the ship being so damaged that it winds up in a completely unexpected stay system: that of Earth.
Let me say that one more time. An asteroid belt that is so dense it would destroy itself within a short time (and therefore discourages things moving quickly through it) hits the ship so hard that it travels within minutes to a different star system at presumably faster than light speeds, so far that even the navigator has no idea what system they’re in until the computer tells them that they’ve reached Earth.
As we continue along this cheap propaganda film within a high budget movie, the main characters survive a wreck that throws most of the equally restrained other characters (all of whom happen to have different skin pigmentation than the main cast) off of the ship and Will Smith - I’m sorry, Cypher Rage - takes time out of a military campaign to stand in front of a matte painting (or the green screen equivalent) for a flashback. The story is obviously constructed by someone who’s never visited the post-pollution Earth, or even the modern one, covered as it is with beautiful green environments without a trace of human (or invading alien) existence. The “massive environmental damage” that the film tries to sell us on is portrayed by the lush green jungles being covered in a layer of frost each night (without any of the plant or animal life suffering as a result of this) and the atmosphere being slightly more difficult to breathe. These two go hand in hand, because neither of them makes any sense with what we’re seeing, and if this were intended to be a real dramatic action film, it would play up on one of these and make it matter, rather than using them as an excuse for tension and graphics and having Jaden Smith saved from freezing to death by an eagle sacrificing its life to bury him in brush.
I’m not typing that again. You read that properly. An eagle that tried to feed Will Smith’s son to its offspring came back after they died to sacrifice itself to...do that. You don’t get any more non-sequitur than that.
If you’ve found M. Night Shyamalan’s other movies hilarious, After Earth is largely in the same vein. It’s largely in the same vein regardless of that, actually. As I mentioned earlier, Will Smith is playing an actor that’s nothing at all like Will Smith, and while Shyamalan has a talent for bringing utterly emotionless, alien performances out of actors that are normally capable of emotion or depth, Smith seems to struggle with the role at times. Jaden Smith is not the kind of precocious child that Shyamalan normally casts either, and that also shows, which helps the comedy of the piece in a way that may not have been intended.
What? I defy you to find an explanation of the movie that makes more sense than this.