Monday, June 3, 2013

The Cinema File #192: “After Earth” Review

Oh dear God, where do I begin with this thing?

M. Night Shayamalan has for the last few years been the butt of a great many jokes, not many of them undeserved. His last few movies have been so bad that the idea that he would be hired to make any more of them seems to defy logic itself. And yet, his slow decline since his second and last truly great film Unbreakable has not been without its silver linings. Before the completely terrible Happening and Avatar, but even after his twist shtick got old, his movies were still technically well made, often visually interesting, and even in some cases underrated. The question of what the hell happened to this once promising director has been a subject of heated discussion for some time, and after watching his latest movie After Earth, I think the question should now shift to the more practical one of simply how we might go about stopping this maniac from ever doing it again.

This scene is five seconds long and not as awesome as it looks

After Earth is the harrowing story of Satan himself raping me in every orifice of my face simultaneously with a spiky multi-pronged dick for an hour and a half. Wait, no, sorry, that's just how it felt, I got confused there for a second. Actually, After Earth is the story of a father and son trapped on a long abandoned Earth in the far flung future forced to find a way to survive in an ecosystem that has since become hostile to the human species. You'll have to forgive me, as I'm still coming off of a somewhat traumatic experience here, so in the coming days my opinion might soften a bit, but as it stands now, this might just be the worst wide release science fiction film in the last twenty years, if not considerably longer.

This image encapsulates this movie better than any other.

The 1950's had Plan 9 From Outer Space, the 2000's had Battlefield Earth, and now the 2010's have this piece of unmitigated shit, which is by far the worst of this illustrious trilogy. And the thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the premise or the story concept or even most of the incidental plot-specific elements. This was entirely a failure of execution. There is a good, or even potentially great movie in here somewhere, but no one, and I mean no one even tried to find it. Its not even that its lazy or obviously phoned in, as every indication seems to be that for its director and the two main leads, this was something close to a passion project. I haven't witnessed something on this scale that was such a beloved endeavor by its creators, and that was this unfortunately misguided, since The Nutcracker 3D. Granted, I only saw that movie like a few weeks ago, but that shouldn't detract from the monumental failure of this movie.

I know this looks cool, but seriously, trust me, it isn't.

The missed potential is just staggering. You establish that the planet Earth has been left to its own devices for years, free of any interference by man, and that as a result it has for all intents and purposes become an alien world to us. So what kind of creatures have evolved in the time since we've been gone, and how different is the place? The answers are none, and not even a little bit, respectively. Yeah, there are no buildings, but other than that, these guys might as well be lost in the woods during a camping trip gone wrong. And supposedly everything's evolved specifically to kill humans, despite there being no humans present to provide the environmental impetus for said evolution. And how did all the animals evolve? They got slightly bigger. What a twist!

"Oh no, this tiger is slightly bigger than other tigers, Damn you evolution!"

And speaking of evolution, I don't think I've ever seen a main character in a movie before that was this perfectly eligible for the freaking Darwin Awards (save of course for the fact that he doesn't die like he clearly should). I know he's just a kid, but I've met real life three year olds that are smarter and have more balls than this teenage space cadet. Of course, a large part of this goes beyond the character itself and into the vast utter void of talent that is Jaden Smith. I've not seen The Karate Kid remake, because why the fuck would I bother, but now I kind of wish that I had, if only to prepare me for this incredibly painful performance. I try to be light on child actors, but this kid has no fucking business anywhere near a movie set, and I wouldn't be that blunt if I thought even for a moment that he had any potential to ever get any better no matter how old he gets.


And Will Smith himself fares no better either. I'm not saying I've ever really considered Smith a particularly strong powerhouse of an actor before this, but what he lacks in acting chops he has always more than made up for with charisma, so much so that until now, I could honestly say that I had never disliked a Will Smith performance. Granted, something like this demands more than his typical snarky cool guy persona, but did he have to maintain the same stone faced grimace throughout the entire movie? I'd say he was as lifeless as his mechanical sidekick from I Robot, but even that stiff hunk of metal had more personality than Smith ever bothers to display in this thing.

"Son, you have to get to the...zzzzzzz"

The one element that I might have liked, a giant alien bug that smells fear, is only used to set up a theme that pissed me off even more. A big part of the movie is centered around not just facing one's fear and overcoming it, but completely eliminating it (an idea used to much better effect in the film Citidel, where it wasn't so heavy handed). You would think a movie so pre-occupied with evolution might have understood that fear isn't a bad thing, but actually an evolutionary advantage, especially in an environment where EVERYTHING WANTS TO KILL YOU! Here, this lesson is only used to pre-stage the most predictable of climaxes as the wimpiest kid in film history becomes the most incredible of bad asses. And when I say incredible, I don't mean great, but rather completely lacking in credibility

This bubble is a metaphor for...oh go fuck yourself movie.

And yet, with all of that being said, the greatest sin of After Earth is that it is just So. Fucking. Boring. I mean, dear Lord, I thought the Hobbit dragged, but at least that was fun to look at most of the time. This movie is uninteresting in literally every possible way in which a movie might attempt to be interesting. The entire film is centered around the main character running a few miles in one direction, fighting shitty CGI for a bit, and then running back the way he came. That's it. Oh wait, no, he also bitches a lot about his daddy issues. Oscar please. By the end, I found myself actually begging for one of those implausible thrown in at the last minute twist endings Shayamalan used to be so famous for. At least it would have been something.

Pictured: The wreckage of M. Night's career

After Earth is by a wide margin the worst film I have seen in 2013, and is up there with the worst of last year as well, and that's not just in terms of science fiction, but just in general. I'd rather watch The Paperboy than watch this again. I'd rather watch The Hangover Part III non-stop on a loop with my eyes taped open like Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange than watch this movie again. I'd rather watch The Master in super slow motion. I don't even recommend seeing this to witness just how bad it is. It isn't worth it, even for the story of having survived it. As if we needed another reason to never see another M. Night Shayamalan movie, this is it folks. Anybody who does it now only has themselves to blame for the mental and emotional scars. 

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