Eleven years ago, M. Night Shyamalan graced the cover of Newsweek magazine joined by the headlining statement, "The Next Spielberg." This was as Signs was opening in theaters and the already two-time Oscar nominee was still considered a great new showman in Hollywood, a master of both suspense and surprise (particularly in his endings).
Within a matter of years, the filmmaker proved unworthy of the claim (and interestingly enough the magazine itself has fared little better). Signs was his last predominantly well-reviewed movie -- through his brand new movie After Earth -- and his peak success at the box office, too (The Sixth Sense grossed more in total but Signs had his best opening).
So, let's hope people are more wary with their declarations, especially for people connected to Shyamalan. For example, nobody should be declaring Jaden Smith the next Will Smith. Aside from the historically common psychological issue of sons feeling the need to make their successful father's proud, it's just too early.
Sure, Jaden's last movie was a worldwide hit even without on-screen parental guidance. He also has already put out a rap album and appeared on a single that went platinum (Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never"). And he's only 14. Will was 18 before his first record hit and in his 20s by the time he was a screen star (with TV's The Fresh Prince of Bel Air).
He's definitely got a lead, and even if it takes another 10 years for him to have both the single of the summer and the action-sci-fi blockbuster of the year, that'll do nicely for the guy. At the moment, however, he's not all that good an actor and doesn't seem to have the charm to substitute for that the way his father tends to.
Funny enough, After Earth is itself a father-and-son story in which the former is a huge deal and the latter is struggling to stand out from under his dad's shadow. I think Jaden even gets better as the movie goes on, both in terms of his acting talent and his action chops, which I'd love to find out was intentional.
At the same time, though, the movie also implies that the dad might have been trying to keep his son out of military service so that he doesn't wind up crippled or worse. The correlation between that and the way Will Smith (who wrote the film's base story) has brought his kid into the entertainment service where he's vulnerable to very negative reviews, as After Earth is receiving, is a rather confounding contrast. But like the kid in the film, maybe Jaden is determined.
Now that Jaden is a teen, critics do feel the need to at least compare him to Will, as you can see in the following sample of quotes:
"I will say that Jaden Smith is a capable actor, he just doesn’t have the charisma that his father has exuded time after time... this is a movie Will Smith is hoping will make Jaden a star. “After Earth” has a lot to like in it, but that ultimate goal falls short." - Kristian Harloff, Schmoes Know
"While Jaden Smith may not have the screen presence of his father yet he ably performs his role enough to let the audience buy in." - Mark Ellis, Schmoes Know
"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." - Dana Stevens, Slate
"Jaden is not his father. He doesn’t have the experience or the talent, and unfortunately the entire film rests on his shoulders." - Justin Craig, Fox News
"Like the movie itself, he’s neither especially bad nor good, he does few things wrong but also does nothing to stand out. Only time will tell as to whether or not his father’s unique qualities have been passed on." - Luke Mullen, Film School Rejects
"Jaden certainly seems an innocent vis-à-vis any acting technique. But he’s earnest. Unlike, say, our last president, he must want to look as if he actually earned his silver spoon." - David Edelstein, New York /Vulture
"A charisma-free performance from the younger Smith that suggests the apple has fallen very far from the tree, indeed." - Keith Uhlich, Time Out
"Before you go screaming 'Nepotism,' however, Jaden once again proves himself a capable leading man. He’s less charismatic here than he was in both Happyness and his enjoyable Karate Kid remake, but he’s playing down the in-his-genes Smith personality because it serves the story." - Sean O'Connell, Cinema Blend
"Son Jaden, who proved he could carry a feature in 'The Karate Kid' remake, earns more screen time than his father." - Jon Niccum, Kansas City Star
"His son may get there yet." - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Do you think Jaden Smith could be the next Will Smith?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter: