Will Smith, Jaden Smith, and M. Night Shyamalan: it’s a combination too good to be true! Well, four or five years ago that might have characterized the box office potential of After Earth; in 2013, though, the movie’s true potential is for just how many nasty and/or hyperbolic digs movie critics can cram into a single review. Shyamalan is coming off a string of truly disappointing creative failures: the tin-eared Last Airbender, the goofy The Happening, and the ambitious but misguided Lady in the Water. As for Will Smith, well, I guess it’s just his time; he’s made plenty of middling pictures in his career (if anything, Shyamalan is one of the more distinctive filmmakers he’s worked with), but now that his son has become a name, and now that he has a “story by” credit on the movie he commissioned to star his son, I guess it’s time to let him have it.
But the thing is, After Earth isn’t all that bad. It’s easily Shyamlan’s most accomplished movie in years; it lacks the gorgeous and unsettling foreboding of the first half of The Village but it also lacks the fear-deflating over-tinkered ridiculousness of the second half of The Village. After Earth is a totally ok, fairly well-made, occasionally ponderous small-scale sci-fi survival story on an interestingly large canvas. So why are some critics acting like it’s some kind of affront? Let’s surf through Rotten Tomatoes for a survey of some truly nutty things that have been said about it, from fairly stupid to amazingly stupid.