After Earth is M. Night Shyamalan’s best film since 2004’s The Village, although that isn’t saying much considering what has filled that void. This story does not contain any big twists or revelations near its conclusion, marking a stark departure from Shyamalan’s signature, but what it does is effectively handle the father-son pairing of Will and Jaden Smith. They play morally divided individuals who must fight for survival after crash landing on Earth, and while they may not be deeply developed, their actions are driven by strong, emotional motivations. They are repetitive, sure, and make the film feel like it’s stretching to fill its 100-minute running time. But what fundamentally works about the film are its two lead performances, playing off one another in a see-saw battle for power that lends heft to the film’s dry, occasionally lazy plot developments. This is an emotionally resonant film on a base level, with nothing spectacular occurring to wow the audience, but it’s a morally simplistic tale handled in the best way it can be.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)