Why I'm A Big Fan Of Will Smith's After Earth, Even Though I Know It's Hated

 Will Smith looks off to the side stoically in After Earth.
Credit: Columbia Pictures

Yes, I know. Most people hate After Earth. In fact, when we ranked M Night Shyamalan’s movies, we put it close to the bottom, with only The Last Airbender “beating” it.

But, unlike Airbender, where I easily understand the animosity toward that movie, I never quite understood why people dislike After Earth. Because you know what? I really like it! I mean, I definitely wouldn’t put it up there as one of the best sci-fi movies of all time like Alien or 2001. But, when it comes to being a rousing, father-and-son story set in the distant future, I think it succeeds on multiple levels.

With Will Smith apparently back in the audience's good graces with the resounding success of Bad Boys: Ride or Die at the box office, I thought that now was as good a time as any to talk about one of my favorite Smith movies, After Earth.

Jaden Smith stranded in After Earth
Jaden Smith stranded in After Earth

It Takes Its Sci-fi Story Seriously

You know what sci-fi flick absolutely sucks? Battlefield Earth. It’s a clunkily told story with terrible acting, and its background lies in Scientology. I don’t think anybody would disagree with how bad that movie is. But, do you want to know something interesting? Back when After Earth first came out, there were reports that it was “Scientology propaganda,” which just added to its problems as a film.

Well, I don’t know much about Scientology except for those bizarre commercials, but I will say that I never saw anything that seemed like After Earth was pushing some sort of agenda toward its audience.

In fact, even though the film is literally titled “After Earth,” I don’t really think much about that as a plotline as I’m more interested in the extraterrestrial life called the Ursa that senses fear (Because fear is the mind-killer…oh, wait. That’s a different movie). I’m also more interested in how a space colony has found a way to overcome said life form with a technique called “ghosting.”

Now, the way I described that sounds pretty silly, but the movie takes itself very seriously, and I think it does an effective job of doing so.

Will Smith, who once made light-hearted, sci-fi fare like the Men in Black movies, took a more serious approach here, as it’s a humorless film, and I think it really works in its favor. It certainly fits the tone that this movie is going for.

Jaden Smith and Will Smith in After Earth
Jaden Smith and Will Smith in After Earth

I Genuinely Think It's A Good Father-Son Story

Yes, you could argue that nepotism was involved when it came to making this movie, just like with the earlier The Pursuit of Happyness. If you can just separate the fact that Will and Jaden Smith are legitimately father and son, however, then I think the story being told here does a genuinely successful job.

In the film, Jaden’s character, Kitai, blames himself for his sister’s death, and spends a majority of the movie trying to prove himself to his father, who views him as somebody who is not ready to lead. The only problem is, once their ship crash lands on Earth, Will’s character doesn’t really have a choice since he’s immobilized, with Kitai being the only one who can save him.

However, throughout the film, we see their relationship grow, which is the crux of this movie. I think it does a splendid job of showing both their character arcs of a father who needs to believe in his son, and a son who needs to step up for his father. Razzies, be damned.

Jaden Smith in After Earth.
Jaden Smith in After Earth.

I Find It To Be A Genuinely Thrilling Adventure

I love the King Kong movies. The original is my favorite, but Kong: Skull Island is a close second. The reason I’m bringing this up is because my favorite aspect of those movies isn’t the part where the giant ape is brought into our civilization, but rather, when human characters go into his.

The aptly titled Skull Island is a perfect location since it has all matters of horrifying, carnivorous animals, as enormous spiders, centipedes, and even dinosaurs are roaming all over.

Well, After Earth is like if Skull Island was the entire movie. In this version of our planet, you have monkeys, giant birds, and even poisonous leeches that are out to kill you. Then, you have the main villain, the Ursa, which can sense fear (and killed Kitai’s sister, played by Zoe Kravitz).

Sure, the “monsters” might be a lot more grounded than a freaking T-Rex, but the adventure of Kitai trying to send up a beacon for his father is still super enthralling as he fights his way against hostile flora and fauna. I think so, at least.

Will Smith looking serious in After Earth
Will Smith looking serious in After Earth

It's A Side Of Both Will And Jaden Smith We Haven't Seen In Other Movies

Jaden Smith hasn’t been in nearly as many movies as his famous father. Yes, he’s been in one of the Karate Kid movies, and he’s even been in another sci-fi flick with the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, outside of those two movies, his filmography is quite brief, with his last movie (if we’re not counting the Kid Cudi documentary, A Man Named Scott) being 2020’s Life in a Year.

That said, After Earth stands out as something totally different in his filmography as he’s playing an action hero, and the same could be said for papa Smith. Yes, he has played plenty of “serious” roles before, winning a Best Actor award for his performance in King Richard, and yes, he’s done a great many sci-fi films in the past. But, he’s never really been this serious in a sci-fi movie before, unless of course you’re counting I Am Legend, which is more post-apocalyptic than sci-fi.

In fact, Smith may be too serious in this movie. He has a perpetual scowl throughout the film, almost like Karl Urban’s version of Judge Dredd, and he’s overbearing (and yet protective) of his son.

They are both performances that are not for everybody (again, those damned Razzie Awards), but I really appreciate how different these two roles feel in both of their filmographies. In fact, I like how it’s different in Shyamalan's, too, as it definitely stands apart from his other movies…for better or for worse.

Jaden Smith and an Ursa in After Earth
Jaden Smith and an Ursa in After Earth

The Ending Always Gets Me Every Time

Lastly, I really love the ending to After Earth. It’s not like it’s super surprising, as the movie is a bit formulaic. That said, I still feel like the journey itself is satisfying in the end when Kitai faces his fear and saves his father.

The final battle takes place at a volcano, and what climax isn’t improved by a volcano? (See: The Northman) It’s here where Kitai tries to send up a distress beacon for his father, but also when an Ursa comes to get him. This is where he uses the “ghosting” method that his father taught him. It’s an intense battle, and it invokes the beginning of the film where Kitai blames himself for his sister’s death.

We also get a sense that his father finally believes in his son, and if you know anything about me, it’s that I love a good father-son story, and this movie is one of the better ones.

So, yeah. Despite what everybody says, I really enjoy After Earth. But, what about you? Do you also secretly enjoy this movie?