You have to hand it to M. Night Shyamalan. For a filmmaker most known for forcing unearned, out-of-left field—some may say asinine—twists into every movie at inopportune moments, he certainly resisted that urge with his new sci-fi adventure After Earth. It couldn’t have been easy for him, and there are times in the film when you, and the entire audience, wait for that holy-shit-it-was-all-a-dream moment, a moment that thankfully never materializes. There are a few groaners, but the closest thing to a twist is nothing more than a poor decision in the writing process that bestows way too much empathetic power on a giant bird.
There is, however, a back side to this particular coin. Unfortunately, the lack of unnecessary complications is the only thing After Earth has going for it. I was rooting for the guy, too, but this is a pretty bad movie. The entire film is predictable, dull, and boring as all hell. It’s the opposite of what you expect, as if Shyamalan, who co-wrote the script with Gary Whitta, took great pains not to stray from the most obvious path, to not to try anything different.
2013 is a year where science fiction renders the surface of our planet uninhabitable, or, at the very least, damn near. Between Elysium, Snowpiercer, Oblivion, Fringe, and probably more to come, our little blue planet is in for a rough go. In the case of After Earth, when we ruin the planet for implied reasons of massive environmental degradation and war, we abandon ship for the vague haven of a planet called Nova Prime. This evacuation was 1000 years ago.
Aside from being tedious, the biggest problem with After Earth is that it does zero world building. Shyamalan shows you a few futuristic structures, the characters wear full body space suits, and Jaden Smith’s voice over feeds you a couple nuggets of informaiton, and you’re expected to accept everything else as this hazy, unclear blob, this floating undefined mass of a future. Even in straight up fiction you have to set the stage better than that, and creating a believable universe is doubly important in the speculative realm. This omission is too bad, too, because this is a huge missed opportunity, and there are some potentially cool things going on. For example, the ships.