This movie took everything cool about The Martian and flipped it.
A two-year mission to Mars is launched with a three-person crew: Captain Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), and medical officer Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). After takeoff, it is discovered that a launch plan engineer, Michael (Shamier Anderson), has been trapped inside of a vent after being knocked unconscious. The three start to bond with their unexpected guest, who is understandably pissed about not seeing his wife or kids for two years. However, it’s determined that Michael’s accident also broke the CDRA, the device that removes Carbon Dioxide from the air, meaning that everyone on board is going to suffocate unless they can find a way around it… or sacrifice someone.
This film feels like yet another attempt to adapt the 1954 short story “The Cold Equations.” In the story, a young girl stows away on a rocket to a colony, unaware that her added weight on the ship throws the fuel off so much that, if she stays, the ship won’t be able to land and they’ll kill everyone in the colony. She sacrifices herself after the pilot realizes there isn’t enough time to teach her how to fly. The point of the story is that space is cold and unforgiving and, most of the time, you are subject only to the laws of physics. Since its publication, it’s been mandatory reading for most aeronautical engineers, which has led to so many people proposing solutions and pointing out the ridiculous nature of having such thin margins for error that it’s literally shaped how spaceflight missions are staged. This film, unfortunately, suffers from the fact that space travel has advanced so much since the premise was created that the plot has to keep screwing the crew over to keep it going.
First, they have to miss a literal person being in the ship during inspection. Moreover, during inspection of one of the most crucial elements in the spaceship. That’s a stretch, but sure, let’s say someone’s lunch ran long and they phoned it in. Human error and such. Then, since the movie already concedes that the ship could sustain a fourth person easily (because they put so many spare parts on the ship in case of emergency), they have to have him break the carbon dioxide scrubber in the process so that there’s an actual issue. Also, they can’t have a working spare. Now, if having an issue with a CO2 scrubber sounds familiar, that’s because it was a plot point in the film (and real-life story) Apollo 13, in which Nasa had its engineers figure out how to adapt a CO2 scrubber from spare parts around the ship. It literally was held together by duct tape, but it worked. This film keeps having their solutions fail (mostly because they’re not great solutions) so that they actually have to have the debate over the ethics of sacrificing someone. It constantly feels forced to me, particularly when compared to The Martian or other films where smart people overcome impossible situations.
The performances, particularly Anna Kendrick as the lone voice of dissent against sacrificing anyone, are all great, but that really doesn’t change the fact that it’s trying to force a problem into a movie that seems like it shouldn’t have one. Then there’s the pacing, which is extremely slow for a film that seems to be depending on some kind of urgency. The dialogue isn’t bad, but it doesn’t save the long, boring scenes. Cinematography is, admittedly, pretty great, as is the set design, but not anything that takes it beyond other, similar movies.
Overall, I just couldn’t get into the film enough to really care about the stakes. I know what they were going for, but I don’t think it worked this way.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.