Everything you need to know about After Earth I learned from reading the reviews

M. Night Shyamalan’s Smith family picture After Earth hits theaters today, and because it’s an M. Night Shyamalan movie, or, I suspect, because it’s not very good, the reviews have been quite negative. Actually, for every 10 reviews, there’s about seven negative, and three devil’s advocate, here’s-why-it’s-not-as-bad-as-everyone-else-says reviews. I tend to believe our friend Laremy’s succinct statement on the matter, because out of all the critics, he’s the cutest (sorry, Kyle Smith):

“After Earth is f*cking terrible, Jaden Smith is not an actor, Will Smith is not a father, and the whole thing is this extended chase scene in which you want the kid to die horribly because all he does is cry like a little bitch about everything. At one point the person next to me said, “C’mon kid, just sack up”. Now if they’d called the film that, I’d have been in.”

It’d be easy to just compile some mean quotes about Jaden’s acting, but it’s too easy. It’s no fun piling on. Instead, I thought we’d use the negative reviews to do what we’ve done a few times before: cobble together the plot and let you decide for yourself. So here it is, everything I learned about After Earth, using nothing but review quotes.

A thousand years ago, we learn, humans fled the Earth after rendering what was once a paradise uninhabitable. They now reside on “Nova Prime…” (Vulture)

…where they wear a lot of white and decorate their homes with flowing sailcloths. (NY Times)

…where all garments and surfaces are dominated by a curious honeycomb pattern, and where we eat our meals with implements that resemble three Lucite chopsticks joined at one end. (Slate)

“After Earth” opens with a teenager, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), washing out from some kind of ranger academy. It’s a bummer because all he wants to do is please his father, Cypher (Will Smith). (NY Times)

(Nova Prime) wasn’t a hospitable place at first, as they were hunted by ferocious predators, blind but able to smell fear. Only a great soldier who’d learned to control that emotion was able to help vanquish them.

Daddy Dearest has risen having honed tremendous self-control and a useful protective technique, “ghosting,” which renders him invisible to the monsters plaguing human civilization: the nonbearlike Ursa. -NY Times

Cypher and Kitai are having trouble connecting, because dad is always out stomping around, secreting nothing but machismo and Old Spice. To alleviate the growing distance between them, Cypher brings Kitai along on a training mission, that, you guessed it, goes horribly wrong. (

A debris storm downs Kitai and Cypher’s spaceship and they fall to Earth… (NY Times)

…in a smashup that looks like someone decorated the set with wet toilet paper and plastic wrap. (NY Times)

…severely injuring (Cypher) and freeing one of those captive monsters.  (

What they need now is a signal beacon to summon help. Unfortunately, this key piece of equipment has been hurled about a hundred kilometers away. Kitai must go fetch it, and it won’t be easy. As Cypher tells his son, “Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans.” (

They trade bitter words, clench their jaws and hold back the tears amid long pauses and inert action scenes. (NY Times)

The bad news is: Dad was seriously injured in the crash, and Kitai is a young, impulsive and untested kid. The good news? Kitai’s form-fitting space suit — which looks like steampunk long johns outfitted with a bicycle-seat-shaped backpack — is made with high-tech “smart fabric.” (WaPo)

…that alerts him to danger by turning black, or to toxins by turning white. (

Equipped with sensors, video camera and microphone, Kitai sets out, his every move monitored and dictated by the general, an emotionally remote but controlling father if ever there was one. (WashingtonPost)

Kitai spends much of the movie running around in a panic, waving his little arms at predators and shouting, “Leave me alone!” (WaPo)

“I can do it myself, Dad! I don’t need your help!” (

Jaden’s approach to his role is the exact opposite of his father’s — and just as wrong. He overacts. He makes faces. He yells a lot. And, unfortunately, unlike Dad, he speaks in a slurry mumble — “aw-duh” for “order,” “cow-ud” for “coward” — that makes him sound like Elmer Fudd. (

Once Cypher and Kitai’s communications go dead, the elder Smith has precious little to do in the film, other than attempt some self-surgery on one of his injured legs. While he waits, Kitai forges on, fending off attacks from a venomous snake, a pack of angry monkeys… (WaPo)

…a beastie that resembles a living booger… (TimeOutNY)

a very large tarantula, a herd of gibbering baboons, a really big bird (

…a pack of slavering leopard-like hyenas (Slate)

…poisonous slugs, tigers, simians, and ultimately, ugh, himself. (

All of them look obviously fake. (WaPo)

The real threat, however, comes from a nasty alien critter… (WaPo)

…a non-native Ursa that happened to be onboard their spaceship and seems destined (i.e., studio-programmed) to meet up with Kitai on top of a fiery mountain at the precise instant when the potential for salvation is upon him. (Vulture)

Kitai’s cool-as-a-cucumber father is famous for his fearlessness — enabling him to effectively become invisible to the monsters. But Kitai has yet to learn this skill, called “ghosting.” (WaPo)

Cypher knows how to boss Kitai around, but he just doesn’t know how to say, “I love you.” (WaPo)

In the last half-hour, after Kitai slips the bounds of his father’s tech-assisted overparenting, the movie gives full voice to its animating philosophy, which resides somewhere at the convergence point of Life of Pi, Dianetics, and Stuart Smalley’s daily affirmations. Fear is not real; be in the now; you had the power in you all along. In the climactic scene, cut off from communication with Cypher, Kitai performs a kind of channeling act in which his father’s voice, now internalized as his own common sense, talks him toward a solution which I won’t detail except to say that it involves some of the most triumphantly phallic use of technology since Luke Skywalker first brandished a lightsaber. (Slate)

As always, finding a conclusion to a post like this is tough, because by nature, reviews tend not to detail the movie’s ending. But approximately 85 percent of the reviews I read concluded with a statement about how Jaden Smith is no action star.

I think this one was my favorite:

Even with his charismatic dad in his earpiece calling the shots, Jaden can’t turn himself into a movie star by sheer force of Will. (Slate)

Oh, I see what you did there. And I like it.

[NY Times,, Vulture, Slate, Timeout, WashingtonPost,]