‘After Earth’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:37 am,

After Earth Jaden Smith Review After Earth Review

After Earth is too limited and muted to fully-incorporate the larger world and concepts it presents, resulting in a pretty standard character story that only offers brief moments of excitement.

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, After Earth, follows the story of father and son Cypher and Kitai Raige, played by real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith, respectively. On a routine trip through space, Raige’s transport is damaged, decimating his crew, as well as stranding him and Kitai on Earth – one thousand years after humanity was forced to abandon the planet.

The only other survivor of the crash is a ruthless and unrelenting creature, an Ursa, designed by hostile alien lifeforms to hunt down humans – by smelling fear-induced pheromones. Cypher, a fearless Ranger Corps warrior capable of “ghosting” (allowing him to move undetected by Ursas), is mortally wounded in the crash; as a result, it falls to Kitai to set out into Earth’s wilderness, featuring highly-evolved (and extremely dangerous) animal life, unstable environmental conditions, toxic air – not to mention the freed Ursa – to locate a distress beacon capable of summoning rescue.

Unlike prior Shyamalan films, Columbia Pictures has been subtle about the well-known director’s involvement with After Earth – and for good reason. After a string of underwhelming movies, Shyamalan’s name carries expectations and baggage that could distract from the onscreen After Earth action and drama. For that reason, fans who are hung-up on prior Shyamalan disappointments, and are hoping to see the director return to his Sixth Sense and Unbreakable glory days, will likely be equally disappointed by After Earth. However, that doesn’t mean the film is an outright failure – despite some heavy-handed thematic elements, awkward story beats, and a few stilted performances, After Earth is at times surprisingly engaging with a rich sci-fi setup and several captivating character moments.

After Earth Will Jaden Smith Crash After Earth Review

Will and Jaden Smith in ‘After Earth’

The initial After Earth story was conceived by Smith and developed by Shyamalan along with Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) and the result is a solid (albeit thin) narrative that’s aided by slick future tech and an intriguing peek at humankind’s place in the larger universe. Though, once the Raiges land on Earth, the scale of the movie narrows significantly, focusing on the life-or-death race to make contact with rescue, abandoning some of the more interesting science-fiction in favor of a very thorough examination of Kitai’s fears and personal struggles.

Despite the straightforward coming of age tale, the actual After Earth experience is a hit-or-miss jumble of plot-holes, poorly developed tangents, interesting world-building, forced story events, cool (though brief) action set-pieces, and several on-the-nose emotional beats. For some viewers, the story will check enough boxes to be a worthwhile adventure-drama, but plenty of moviegoers will easily be distracted by the film’s numerous narrative shortcomings.

Despite the inclusion of fan-favorite Will Smith, this is Kitai’s story (and Jaden Smith’s movie), pushing the father-figure out of the action spotlight into a subdued support role – left as little more than an onlooker as his son faces one dangerous situation after another. For that reason, the plot point could be a disappointment to viewers hoping to see Smith take center stage, battling evolved Earth animals and alien creatures. Still, his incapacitation has been an essential aspect of the After Earth story from day one – given that the story has always centered on a reluctant son who must overcome his fears to save his father.

After Earth Jaden Smith Kitai Raige After Earth Review

Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige in ‘After Earth’

Fortunately, Jaden (The Karate Kid) is competent in the role of Kitai – in spite of some awkward voice-over exposition and a few scenes where it’s clear the young actor is still finding his footing. Considering that much of the movie follows Kitai alone in the wilderness, battling CGI creatures, and talking to an off-camera Cypher through a video screen in his suit, Jaden handles the challenges well-enough to ensure that key action scenes are exciting and emotional moments deliver some cathartic payoff.

Smith, on the other hand locks away his whit and charm, dusting off his grim Seven Pounds and I Am Legend demeanor, to play the fearless (and seemingly emotionless) Cypher. The performance is fitting for the film’s subject matter and world but, coupled with his subdued role, the lack of magnetism and trademark one-liners is sure to be a sticking point for fans that were expecting to see a new “Will Smith movie.” Instead, like Jaden, Will has to sell the performance in solo scenes instead of sharing exchanges with another performer – further complicated by the hurdle of being stuck in one place for most of the runtime. Ultimately, a few of Will’s scenes are forced and melodramatic, but overall, the character (and the actor) present worthwhile contributions to the larger After Earth story – elevating what could have been a bland exposition machine or sound board for Kitai into a empathetic and effective addition.

Even though Will handed leading-man duties to younger and nimbler Jaden this round, adrenaline junkies will likely be underwhelmed by the amount of large-scale action in After Earth. There are a number of cool CGI sequences and genuinely tense encounters but most of the Kitai versus nature fights are very brief, relying heavily on one or two slow-motion shots to sell each sequence. Similarly, the camera work in a few of the more high-energy scenes is too frantic to fully appreciate the actual threats that Kitai encounters – especially since, despite Cypher’s numerous warnings, the film never really depicts an interesting example of how the Earth creatures have evolved. Unless by “evolved” Shyamalan just means “bigger” and “angrier.”

After Earth Will Smith Cypher Raige After Earth Review

Will Smith as Cypher Raige in ‘After Earth’

After Earth is not playing in 3D but the film is screening in IMAX theaters. Sadly, there’s very little reason to pay the upcharge this round. Whereas Oblivion made smart use of its post-apocalyptic Earth setting, which was further enhanced by IMAX audio and screen size, the After Earth visuals are much more restrained – with only a few shots that stand to benefit from a premium presentation.

Overall, After Earth is an extremely uneven film that is bogged down by a number of setbacks, but for moviegoers who are intrigued by the initial premise and aren’t expecting a return to form for Shyamalan, it’s not the throwaway disaster that certain viewers might claim. There are some genuinely engaging elements and the larger narrative universe is ripe for exploration – with some really interesting sci-fi ideas that could make for even better adventures down the line. Unfortunately, After Earth is too limited and muted to fully-incorporate the larger world and concepts it presents, resulting in a pretty standard character story that only offers brief moments of excitement as well as father and son drama.

If you’re still on the fence about After Earth, check out the trailer below:

517705175 3 620 439 After Earth Review


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After Earth runs 100 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images. Now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our After Earth Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our After Earth episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. The trailer looked fantastic but the film is getting bad reviews – just something to be concerned about for Man Of Steel.

    I agree with everyone that Unbreakable was great (minus the ridiculous twist ending) but Last Airbender was no where near as bad as what everyone has made it out to be.

    Looks like the Will Smith charm offensive has finally worn off with moviegoers, who have finally woken up to how bad his movies actually were.

    • Honestly, I thought the trailer for this looked terrible. The whole operation looked terrible. Why would you have high expectations for a movie directed by M. Night Shamalabamabanamalan?

      • No need to become racist my friend. I agree with you in that every movie is worse than the one before made by him, but to make fun of someones name is pretty lame!

        • That isn’t racism. Nowadays everybody jumps on the bandwagon of racism to complain about other people’s expressions. That is just a joke using a name that is long and hard to pronounce and actually is funny. I am sure he gets it all the time even from his friends. People that have not grown up in a racist society behave in natural ways like this: playing jokes on everything openly without any hidden agenda or double purpose.

    • I think the teaser looked good and the film has an interesting premise, but after seeing the full trailer and knowing M.K. Shamalamadingdong was directing, this movie headed to the Netflix pile, if I bother seeing it at all.

      • LMAO @ SHamalamadingdong! Touche!

        I had no idea he was involved with this movie until maybe just a few days ago. I was so excited to see it for weeks but then, once I discovered he directed I figured it wouldn’t be worth watching in theatres. He needs to give it up.

    • When I saw the trailer, I thought “gonna be a stinker.” When I read Will Smith’s character was named “Cypher Raige” I said “good lord, what an obvious choice.” Let’s just take 2 words that sound cool and make a name out of them!

  2. I actually had high hopes for this one. Oh well looks like another failed attempt at sci-fi action

  3. I have no desire to see this movie. Haven’t from day 1. Will Smith isn’t the favorite he used to be. For me the previews look extremely fake. Thanks for the review.

  4. Honestly why do you guys have so much time on your hand, do you work I mean let them be great even if we all don’t like it. Jayden is not his father but that doesn’t mean he won’t mature as be great uplift him don’t bring him down

    • “Jayden is not his father but that doesn’t mean he won’t mature as be great uplift him don’t bring him down”


      Is it cool to be “college educated” and not to have graduated?

    • your confusing sentence structure aside… the review is about this movie.. and smith’s performance IN THIS MOVIE. not the fantasy you have made up surrounding his potential future career.

    • “why do you guys have so much time on your hand, do you work”


      Ok, there. I’m done screaming.

    • I don’t think anyone here is keeping anyone from being great. The fact of the matter is that Jaden’s acting is not good, and horrible acting can turn people off from a film as it ruins the immersive experience.It is not the responsibility of the consumer to uplift someone when that someone performs below-average. Feedback– whether positive or negative– is a major part of growth; you, as a college educated individual should know this. If he truly is serious about his acting, he needs to take the constructive feedback and learn.

  5. Just saw this movie. Not great by any means but I dont know why the critics are so negative. It was a mildly entertaining film but not terrible. I’m not sure what people were looking for from a Will and son movie. Will Smith was solid. I thought his performance actually made the film as compelling as it could be given the weak story. Jaden gives an underwhelming performance and he’s actually quite annoying throughout this movie. A weak actor with an even weaker character is not a good combo. Nevertheless, I found the movie enjoyable.
    It seems like MNS tried to play it safe with a predictable order of events. There are classic MNS features in this movie but entirely forgettable.
    I saw this by myself but I’m sure my wife would’ve enjoyed Will’s performance and my teenage daughter (for some reason) would’ve totally been into Jaden. That leaves me to believe that it won’t tank at the box office. The casual fan will go see this movie. Btw, I got a matinee and it was pretty crowded.
    Predictable? yes. Plot holes? Several. Small in scope given the potential of the setting? Yes. A nauseating Jaden Smith perfomance? Indeed. In a Battlefield Earth category? Absolutely not. IMO.

  6. Want to see a better “After Earth” movie ? Go watch the animated TITAN A.E. A much better film. Never planned on seeing After Earth with screaming Will Smith and his Kung-Fu son. Sorry…but that ship sailed a long time ago.

    • Actually I completely agree that Titan A.E. is fantastic, I love this movie. After Earth was always just a prop video for his son Jaden to get on the big screen, anyone with 1/2 a brain could think of a better script and storyline. I feel sorry for them both

      • keep watch, cause i’m pretty sure Will smith will try a reboot of fresh princ of bel-air next starring you know who.

        ”i got in too many bad movies
        and my dad got scared..

        so he he said to me..
        ”i’m gonna start you like i got started,
        i’ m sending you to bel-air”

        • Lmaooooo

  7. Sheesh people,I wonder how y’all REALLY feel about AE,ha ha,still I might go see it for myself to find if it’s really all that,I suppose in this case curiosity may not only kill the cat,but my wallet as well. ;)

    • “still I might go see it for myself to find if it’s really all that”

      You know this phrasing only makes sense if After Earth was getting really good word of mouth, right? It’s getting terrible word of mouth so your post is completely baffling.

      • You should go see it. It’s actually good. Not great but was fun to watch. The acting is a little laughable but never the less it was worth seeing

  8. I watched it earlier today, I think the movie has an interesting premise, but I felt like it needed alot more. I had a great time at the movies with my friends ranting about how much of a useless crybaby Kitai is and rooting for his death at many points. The whole ghost no fear danger thing was really cool to me. There really wasn’t anything outright terrible (other than Jaden’s random accent…) it was just lacking and a bit rushed in some ways. Maybe that was supposed to be some metaphor for we don’t have time to do anything else it’s a life or death situation. We don;t have time to look at evolved animals or explore or something.

  9. What … the military of the future has no ray guns? no photon grenades? Just oversized switchblades?
    And what about prosthetics for limbless soldiers? Lots of stuff hurt this movies credibility. Sad.

  10. I don’t believe the reviews for this movie,I think the press wants to make this movie fail and not become the big blockbuster it’s set to be. I saw the trailer and it looks amazing I want to see it.

    • Remember Superman Returns. Fantastic trailer, some cool action sequences (catching the plane, bullet to the eye), big let down of a movie. Sounds exactly like what we’re getting with After Earth.

      • I was thinking about Superman Returns after some of the newer Man of Steel tv spots came out.

        We got duped by the trailers because we knew trailers often leave out the awesome action stuff, we thought there would be some goodies waiting for us in the film itself. Turns out there was just a bit of Superman action. I enjoy that film but it needed a villain that was a match to Superman, and needed more action.

  11. Corny, self indulgent and Will and jaden smiths’ most over acted performance to date. But it’s sci fi so it’s all good. Great concept, waiting for the remake with better actors.

  12. Saw this tonight. It wasn’t great or bad, just average. Worth seeing if you’ve seen everything else out there and still have $9 in your wallet.

  13. Always surprised by the voting on this site. Are people voting based on actually seeing the movie or voting on the trailer… odd!

  14. I agree Jaden smith is a terrible actor. Couldn’t stand him in after the earth stood still. Pretty much same whiny kid in all his roles. Will was also horrible in this one and he’s usually pretty good. Guess all the fame has gotten their heads way too over inflated to rationalize at this point.

    • If Jaden was so terrible why did you go see the movie? Really people grow up…if I don’t like an actor I don’t support their movie….I also don’t bash it!

      • Bashing it without seeing it is moronic, which is why people go see a film when they have doubts. You can’t judge it unless you’ve experienced it.

        • I said if you don’t like the actor…then don’t see the movie…Please read the entire message before your respond.

          • No, I got it. You’re just not understanding.

            “If you don’t like the actor, don’t see the movie” philosophy circumvents the process of being a real movie enthusiast. Not seeing a movie just because you don’t like one thing about it will prevent you from being able to assess the overall film.

      • I went to see it because it seemed like it could be a great story. It wasnt bad. Just because jaden smith sucks doesn’t mean the whole movie sucks. It wasnt bad but the acting was way over dramatic. And you never know till you go see it. I’ve seen it now I can critique it if I want.

  15. I saw the movie and really liked it. I thought Jaden did a very good job. He made me care that he was just a kid out there in that big, dangerous world all alone. Of course Will’s character was “flat” he was supposed to be devoid of emotions. He was, but you could tell the fear for his son was there. I liked the interaction between them, and how he was really there for the kid. It’s sci-fi folks, it’s not an art piece. Any time critics say they don’t like a move, I go and generally like it, because they are looking for the “art,” not the entertainment factor. The Scientology crap is just that. You can read anything you want into a movie. Go see the movie, and judge for yourself. Don’t go on what these critics are saying.

    • I agree totally!!!

  16. The people who didn’t like the movie are people who don’t like WIll SMith anyway> It was a great movie. Don’t let haters deter you from seeing the movie. It was entertaining…which is why we go to the movie.

    • Could you stop making generalizations and explain why you think the movie was great? Simply writing someone off as a hater and providing little to no substance to the conversation seems rather weak. I’m just looking for people to properly articulate their thoughts on both sides of the conversation before I make the decision seeing this in theaters.

      • Look if you want to see the movie see it…I am not here to persuade you to go. I liked the movie because it was entertaining….which I think I wrote. You have made up your mind so why even write anything. You see you didn’t write anyone else you didn’t like the movie…why is that???

        • “You see you didn’t write anyone else you didn’t like the movie…why is that???”

          Huh? What are you even trying to say? I already stated that I haven’t seen the movie, so how did you come to the conclusion that I don’t like the movie?

          I didn’t ask you to persuade me. I asked you to elaborate, rather than calling people haters simply because they didn’t like a movie. And yes, you did say it was entertaining, but you never explained why it was entertaining–which is why I asked you to elaborate.

          • I liked the movie. You have to see the movie to know if you like it. You can’t depend on what other people say.

            • I’m well aware of that. You have already stated that you liked the movie and I never mentioned anywhere that I depended on what you or anyone says. I’m asking you to elaborate, instead of calling people haters simply because their opinion differs from yours. You can’t get upset about people “attacking” you for your opinions, when you write off differing opinions as “hating”. If you do not have the ability to properly articulate your thoughts in a concise manner, that’s perfectly fine, but please cut out the double standards.

              • I didn’t read where there is a criteria on how I need to express my opinion. I can say someone is a hater because that is how I feel. You are mad about what I wrote is sad and juvenile. Please go write on people messages you agree with. It’s called Freedom of speech…REALLY

                • There is no criteria and I’m not mad, I’m just trying to make a point. No one is threatening your freedom of speech, all I asked you to do is explain why you thought the movie was good.

  17. To the 2 ladies above, who are dissing the reviews and sound blatantly like Jaden Smith fangirls, reviews are a tool to decide what to spend your hard earned money on. If you look back at movies you’ve liked and find a reviewer that tends to agree with you, their reviews hold merit in determining whether or not to put down $12 to see a movie. Ben is VERY fair in his reviews (as is the whole Screen Rant team), so if he says this is a weak movie, I believe him. There is a reviewer at the NY Post with whom I disagree with 90% of the time. So if he really goes off on a film, I probably will enjoy it.

    • I am a 30 year old mom….thank you very much. We are here to express our opinion sorry it goes against the grain. What else is new in Hollywood? So if anyone likes the movie you can’t post on this website because you will be attacked.

      • The movie was ok. I don’t think anyone is saying it was completely horrible. It was weak and a bit self indulgent but it entertained. Is it a classic, cinematography master piece? Um no! For me te idea was great but they didn’t develop it more and will and jaden way over acted. I think it would have been a muh better movie with different actors. That’s just my opinion.

  18. Thanks for the balanced and well thought out review. Most of the others have been excessively focused on insulting the movie, without actually providing any detail on what was so bad about it. It’s refreshing to see analysis minus the superlatives.

  19. It would have been really interesting if they would have developed the idea I joe te earth evolved more. Like why is the air no breathable even with all the vegetation. How species maybe once near extinction are plentiful after humans vacated the planet. Stuff like that for me would have been cool. Also maybe a little more back story on the current planet they inhabit. Anyway that would have added a bit of meat for me.

  20. I saw the movie, it was nothing like what this guy writes about saying disappoint, bad , it was very entertaining – what a bigot!

    • “bigot” ?

      lol wtf. “Bigot” means being prejudiced against someone, it doesn’t mean “thinks something you liked is terrible.”

  21. I saw the preview for this at IM3 and Star Trek 2, I wasn’t impressed but since I had a free ticket, I thought what the heck.

    Major disappointment, I left after 40 minutes, it was that bad. I didn’t know anything about it other than Will Smith was in it so I had no expectations other than a couple hours of entertainment during a hot day. I would’ve given this a 0 but you don’t allow that so I gave it a generous 1 star.

    Skip this, it’s not even worth a free ticket, I wish I had used the free one on Man of Steel!

  22. Claudia…. Great point,

    All sorts of issues in the movie just for effect but not explained.


    What’s up with the subzero temp zones that look like tropical jungles. Stupid. They show the leaves wrapping up like the sap is all going to the roots but the only people who would make a connection are Botatnists or people who make maple syrup. Stupid concept in this movie

    • Oh I know would have been awesome if they explained the conditions of the earth more. They had so much to work with they could have really made it awesome. I think they focused too much of making jaden smith an action hero and not on making the movie everything it could be. It was so self indulgent it was hard to watch at times but the idea was still really interesting. The leach scene was pretty good but I wanted to know as did my 11 yr old, why couldn’t he breath. What happened to the air. And yeah what was the deal with the freeze over a very tropical area. Lots and lots if questions. I did enjoy it tho

  23. I went hoping that Jaden might have grown as an actor after the millions mum & dad are spending on his career. Well if his acting doesn’t improve & his parents keep making choices like this stinker he won’t be round for much longer. Nor will dad Will.

  24. So in summary, Fallen is a failure that barely survives by actor pedigree? Also, Last Airbender was so disastrous because the movie failed on ALL levels to honor the magnificence of the animated series upon which it was based. It was an insult.

  25. It looks okay.. Like a modern equivilent of one of those 80′s generic sci-fi films that you knew walking in wouldn’t require much concentration to sit through. I’m thinking of films like the later Planet of the Apes sequels or Starman.. Films that never quite lived up to their potential but you’d watch because they were on.

  26. Save your money. There was nothing good about this film

  27. Jaden smith makes this movie unwatchable. He’s such a brat in this movie, I’m guessing his character and will smiths character are potrayals of their home life

  28. I was not going to watch this because of that horrible actor Jayden Smith. Now I have another reason, albeit not as good as the first reason, because I found out that M Knight Shamalamadingdong directed it

  29. 2/5 for me at the most. only giving a 2 just cause the visuals were pretty good. And agree with everyone else Jayden Smith cannot act. Skip this one and go see now you see me