I really don’t want to fucking talk about M Night Shyamalan anymore. I don’t want to discuss what merit his older movies do or don’t have or talk about how shitty he is now. There are no M Night Shyamalan defenders left. There are only people like this:
Hating Shyamalan is so popular and such an easy way to show how refined your tastes are that people keep imagining that other people still like him just so they can feel superior. The only thing more tired and played out than Shyamalan are the people who hate him like it’s their fucking job to. Just like loving Star Wars, hating George Lucas or hating both and loving Star Trek, talking shit on Shyamalan has become some sort of weird badge of nerd honor for the kind of people who think being nerdy is all about showing everyone how nerdy you are.
Fortunately, After Earth isn’t an M. Night Shyamalan movie. His name isn’t in the trailer or on the poster and more importantly, his presence is completely unfelt in the movie itself. After Earth is a Smith family movie. It was produced, co-written, starred in and secretly co-directed by Will Smith and his immediate family. So let’s shut the fuck up about Shyamalan for a bit.
This movie has more than enough baggage, even without one of the most hated directors in hollywood at the helm, to keep me going for at least a full article. Will Smith’s two goals for After Earth were to establish his son as a blockbuster movie star and to create a Star Wars-like franchise, complete with sequels, books, toys, video games and every other form of media or merchandising you can think of. Ok…let’s just take those one at a time. First, you have Jaden Smith.
Will Smith has always been excellent at promoting himself as a star. His career survived a stretch a movies from 1998 to 2005 that included: Wild Wild West, The Legend of Baggar Vance, Ali, Men in Black II, Bad Boys II, I Robot, Shark Tale and Hitch. Almost all of those movies are awful, almost all of them still made a ton of money and when it was over, Will Smith was still a star. At the end of the day, Will Smith is selling us himself. He’s confident, charming, talented and funny. He’s also a family man, determined on having his children follow in his footsteps in a creepy, Jiro Dreams of Sushi kind of way. And with After Earth and all the publicity surrounding it he’s not selling Will Smith anymore, he’s selling us Jaden. Jaden is an awkward, spoiled, entitled brat. He’s 14. They’re all that way. He has every chance of becoming just as charismatic and charming as his father one day, but right now he’s an awkward kid. It’s not quite as OK to fail now because the safety net of “at least I got to look at Will Smithâ€ is gone.
Then there’s this franchise business. Will Smith is also a savvy businessman. He’s conquered rap, TV, movies and in his spare time he owns an NBA team. He wanted After Earth to be the springboard for this huge multimedia empire, which is kind of his thing. It’s just that people have been trying to make the next Star Wars ever since the first Star Wars. And even Star Wars didn’t plan it that way. It was a movie, then it was a few movies with some toys and finally, it was a bunch of toys shaped like movies. The way you create an empire is by starting with one thing and making it popular. I won’t even say it has to be good, but there needs to be something there. All of the effort you put into tying in the novels and planning sequels and whatnot should’ve been spent giving After Earth that something.
If After Earth was only trying to tackle one of these goals, it might have succeeded. Jaden Smith is no prodigy as far as acting goes but he’s not so bad that you couldn’t have written him into a good movie. If that had been the focus, or it had been an extremely ambitious sci-fi film that still starred Will Smith, there would be more to talk about. But between the two of them, After Earth is so weighed down with outside expectations that it barely contains any actual movie. It’s just a bunch of barely formed sci-fi concepts kind of thrown together.
What saddens me is that I actually like Will Smith’s goals. I would love for Jaden to succeed his father so I can keep watching Men in Black movies until I die, and I’m all for having a new sci-fi franchise I can overly invest myself in. He’s just going about both of these all wrong and at the same time. Will Smith’s Star Wars dreams probably died at the box office last week, but I don’t think anything will keep him from continuing to promote his children. That’s what we can expect to mark his career for the foreseeable future. Either he’ll do it smart and we’ll see more movies like Pursuit of Happyness or he’ll continue to go about it like this and we’ll slowly lose interest. – DT