There seems to be a real critical backlash about this film, which by no means is great, but it is not terrible. After Earth is a sci-fi adventure that may take itself too seriously, but ultimately works, especially for its family and teen target audiences.
All the critics who have got a right hump about this film seem to not judge the film on its own, but judge M. Night Shyamalan for failing to deliver and lambaste him for his decline into a series of god awful films. Yes, The Happening was terrible, yes The Last Airbender was atrocious, but After Earth does not deserve to be shoehorned in with those failures. This grudge the critics have with Shyamalan seems to stem from the fact that he made them once fall head over heels as the next young auteur director all those years ago. He might not have met that potential and the fact that he made some real turkeys has made the gavel of critical judge come down heavy handed on any film he will make, unless it is exceptional.
There are some really interesting elements in After Earth, the lush vision of an Earth where nature has taken over is quite interesting, the evolved animals and alien creature are also well imagined, there is a nice, if sentimental relationship between real life father/son Will Smith and Jaden Smith and the direction has foundation and craft behind it. M. Night Shyamalan is always going to be an accomplished technical director. There are moments of pathos and emotional cues between dad, Cypher and son, Kitai, that could have been cringe worthy because Will Smith, as great a screen presence he is, being solemn is not his strong point…and Jaden Smith is still hit and miss as an actor. But when there are failings in the performances, Shyamalan’s direction gives you the trigger - even if it is constructed not organic, this is an escapist blockbuster not an art house delight.
The slight issues with performances are unfortunately not the only problems with the film. The exposition at the beginning is so brief and so convoluted that you never once completely engage yourself with the world it exists in. The narrative, yes is expected to be sentimental and follow some blockbuster convention, but here there isn’t a single surprise. Everything you expect to happen eventually does, and clichés you think that ‘no way would use that’ get used - which is the saddest state of Shyamalan’s current film making. From the man who always kept you second guessing, he has become the man who you expect exactly what you think- it is the main criticism I share with the general consensus of Shyamalan haters.
I went to a showing of After Earth right after school finished, so it was packed with teenagers and families and when it ended, it got an ovation from the kids - it must have some quality if it gets its target audience. For everyone else, it is a mindless sci-fi romp in an interesting but silly universe - at no point was I bored enough to squeeze the bridge of my nose, nor was I excited enough to let more light in my eyes than normal.