A Will Smith movie that bombs at the box office? An M. Night Shaymalan movie that people say could actually be worse? After Earth is just confusing as hell, and thus we’ve decided to answer your Frequently Asked Questions regarding the movie.
So some critics are calling After Earth godawful, while some are saying it’s not bad. Which is it?
Actually, I think Charlie Jane has it exactly right — After Earth is a disappointment, mainly because it’s not the schadenfreude-packed clusterfuck we’ve come to expect from M. Night Shyamalan.
So it’s actually good?
Oh, goodness me, no! It’s quite bad.
After Earth is just a regular bad movie, which isn’t nearly as fun to hate-watch.
Okay. What’s the story?
An emotionally dysfunctional father and his overemotional nincompoop of a son crash-land on Earth, which has been quarantined for 1,000 years after we humans fucked it up and left. Dad breaks both his legs, so son has to walk 100 km to the other half of the spaceship’s wreckage to find a beacon. This is bad because, as Will Smith’s dad says, everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans.
What? Evolved to kill humans? In 1,000 years?
That’s not how evolution works.
And why would animals evolve to kill humans if there weren’t actually any humans around?
Look, it doesn’t matter, because the only two things that have actually evolved to kill humans is a bug and saber-toothed tigers, although the tigers were just trying to get some giant eagle babies and just happened to find Jaden Smith inside their nest.
What about those monkeys from that one clip?
Those monkeys have evolved to get pissed off when a hysterical Jaden Smith screams and needlessly throws rocks at them.
What is wrong with this kid?
A lot. First, an alien called an Ursa (which looks nothing like a bear) killed his sister when he was little; he survived because she put him in a terrarium, and the Ursa can only track by the scent of fear. Second, his dad is the greatest soldier ever and has the ability to “ghost,” i.e., which is to say doesn’t feel fear and thus doesn’t smell, and also he is so emotionally distant from his son that it’s kind of hilarious. Third, he’s Jaden Smith.
Jaden Smith is a bad actor. I have nothing against the kid, I’m sure he’s nice, but his cinematic career is due entirely to his dad’s checkbook and nothing to do with talent. Since there are basically only two characters in this movie, and the other never leaves the ship, it’s kind of problematic. It doesn’t help that he’s playing a goober.
Who calls someone a "goober" anymore? What is this, 1954? Are you Dennis the Menace?
Sorry, it’s the most apt word my brain can find for the kid, who is supposedly gunning to be a badass Ranger like his dad, but instantly falls to pieces anytime anything happens.
Well, if his spaceship crashes, I’d say freaking out is pretty appropriate.
Yeah, he handles that fine, actually. But when he actually sees a dead body? He whimpers and tries to nudge it out of the way with his foot. This is a dude trying to be a Starship Trooper, remember. Before the ship crashes and he goes to the cage where they’re transporting the monster and the soldiers make fun of the boy and dare him to get close to the cage — exactly like no soldier would ever do to the son of a national hero, let alone the dude who technically saved the human race — he’s as skittish as a newborn colt drinking Red Bull.
The monkeys get pissed, and, despite the fact that they’re not actually attacking and that his father is telling him to just be calm (over the suit, which I’ll get too in a minute), Jaden decides the best course of action is to freak out and throw shit at them, which of course works out poorly. Granted, he freaks out when he’s poisoned by the aforementioned bug and loses his sight and ability to feel his hands as he’s trying to take the antidote, but I’ll give him that one. And later, when Will Smith tells Jaden to abort the mission to get the beacon, he totally loses his shit and calls his dad a coward because he was off on a mission protecting the entire human race instead of being home to protect his daughter (or something).
Wait, why would Will Smith abort the mission?
Because Jaden needs these lung-liners to breathe on Earth, and he breaks some in one of his conniption fits, so he doesn’t have enough to reach the ship on foot.
But wouldn’t Will and Jaden die anyway, if they don’t get to the beacon?
…what do you mean “on foot”?
Well, as Will Smith’s hilarious Plot Point 2000 Computer tells him, Jaden probably can make the trip if he does a skyjump off the cliff he happens to be standing on and glides most of the way there.
Why the hell doesn’t Will Smith tell Jaden to jump off the damn cliff and save both their asses?
I have no idea. But it doesn’t matter because Jaden jumps off the cliff anyway.
Go ahead, ask.
…without Will Smith telling him that the jump is a necessary choice?
Yes. Actually, without even telling Jaden that jumping off a cliff is even an option. He also doesn’t seem to tell Jaden the suit has gliding capabilities. For all intents and purposes, Jaden just randomly tosses himself off a cliff after yelling at his dad.
That’s pretty dumb.
Yeah, but it works out, despite no one giving each other the necessary information and everyone making weird, dumb decisions. Well, except for the giant eagle who grabs Jaden while he’s flying and then tries to feed him to its baby eaglets.
Isn’t that an animal that has evolved solely to kill humans?
It's an animal that has evolved to grab things that look like giant flying squirrels and then serve them for brunch. Anyways, that’s when those saber-toothed tigers attacks, and Jaden manages to defend the nest, while somehow not saving any of the eaglets.
I – none?
Not a one. And yet for his noble failure, when Jaden is freezing to death — oh, the Earth no gets super-cold for some reason at night, enough to freeze people to death, but there are random “hotspots” that somehow aren’t affected by the planet’s temperature, I guess — the eagle digs a hole, grabs Jaden, puts him in it, and then covers it up with her own body and dies keeping Jaden warm.
That… that’s horrible. Just really, really dumb and trite and makes no sense even based on the few ridiculous rules that the movie has itself established.
That’s not a question, but I accept it anyway.
Wait a fucking second. So the animals have to go to these hotspots too?
And these hotspots aren’t jam-packed with animals each night?
Not that I can see.
And didn’t the giant eagle have a nest with newborn chicks in it?
Maybe the nest was a hotspot?
Look, a giant eagle turned itself into an eagle-down comforter to save Jaden Smith’s life after he failed saving its kids. The temperature discrepancy isn’t the dumbest thing going on in this scene, unfortunately.
Sigh. So what’s left?
Not much. Jaden gets to the wreckage and finds the beacon, but can’t get a signal. So he climbs up the nearby active volcano — one that literally has rivulets of lava issuing from it — which is of course when the Ursa arrives. It chases Jaden around for a while until Jaden conveniently "ghosts" and kills it. He fires the beacon, they’re saved, Will Smith respects his son because he didn’t act like a doofus at the very end of the movie, although he didn’t get to see it because he was pretty much unconscious from blood loss and shit.
Hey, if Jaden is without fear doesn’t that mean he’s probably going to become an emotionless asshole like his dad?
Probably. This is supposed to be a happy ending, too.
Anything else I should know about the movie?
You mean anything else dumb that I wasn’t able to work organically into the FAQ? Yes. First, the tech is ridiculous. It looks pretty, but shit in the future breaks, really, really easily — his lung liners, his arm guard, the first beacon, the ship, everything fall apart with just mild jostling.
What about Jaden’s suit?
The suit doesn’t fall apart, but it does have two interesting abilities. The first is that the suit changes color when it senses danger, although the sensor is apparently fucked, because it’s actually pretty random. When the non-threatening monkeys attack? Black as night, even before Jaden starts messing with them. When a bug is poisoning him? The suite is beige or something.
What’s the other thing?
The suit not only shows Will Smith what Jaden sees back in the ship, but also is somehow conveniently able to access views filmed by the actual movie camera. Like, looking at Jaden from 10 feet in front of him. That’s a neat suit!
The movie’s run time in less than 100 minutes, which is pretty short for a scifi epic nowadays. Do you know why this is?
Well, because it’s an incredibly simple story. Honestly, the film is padded out immensely, mostly with scenes of Jaden and Will trying to communicate to each other and failing for like a full minute before actual conversation starts. Will can’t get Jaden to listen because he’s freaking out. Jaden can’t get his dad to listen because he’s delirious with pain. There’s communication problems. People repeat the same line over and over and over until the next person finally speaks. Seriously, half this movie is Will and Jaden Smith not answering each other.
Here’s a question: If the Ursa only see by fear, how the hell do they get around? It’s not like trees fear them, so shouldn’t they be running into them constantly?
I… I have no answer for that.
Can you give me one good reason to go see this movie?
I can’t even give you one bad reason to see this movie.
Then I’m afraid I’m not going to bother seeing it.
Okay, but remember, FEAR IS A CHOICE. And in this case, it’s probably the right choice.