For the longest time, dystopian science-fiction films have always struck us as a distinctly American Fantasy. A new, lawless, wild west emerging out of the ruins of the old world. Whether it’s through trusty zombie pandemics, thermonuclear devastation, capitalism run amok or malevolent robots.
Following in the footsteps of visionary Boon Jung-Ho, director Jo Sung-hee has decided to throw his hat in the ring with “Space Sweepers”. A space opera that follows the adventures of a motley crew of space outlaws. While Sung-hee and the rest of the cast seem intent on giving their all, unfortunately it doesn’t quite cut it. “Space Sweepers” drifts squarely within the stratosphere of the mediocre.
The film is set in the year 2092, the Earth is dying and the majority of humanity live in poverty. Most of the world’s resources are controlled by the private military group and corporation, UTS. Far above the squalor is Eden, a utopian space colony made available to a select group of humans. Then, there are the Space Sweepers. Junk scrappers who collect falling debris from UTS property to sell on the market. The film follows the adventures of the all-Korean crew of The Victory ship. Fugitives looking to make it big in the galaxy. They find a little girl stowed away on their ship but she’s no ordinary kid. She possesses the key to the Earth’s salvation or its utter destruction.
It’s pretty much the Korean “Elysium”. Hell the name of the space paradise Eden isn’t too far off from the titular one in Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film. Perhaps, with a dash of Joss Whedon’s “Serenity” thrown in there. The world-building in “Space Sweepers” isn’t very compelling. It all feels far too reminiscent of more inspired sci-fi films that came before. How many times must we see the down-on-their-luck outlaws with hearts of gold go up against the big, evil organisation? It’s as generic as they come.
When the film’s plot isn’t being derivative, it’s being downright confusing. Without spoiling too much, trust us when we say that nanobots don’t work that way! Then there’s the main villain’s motivations. He seems to have no greater purpose than being a giant corporate dick. If there was a drinking game for the tropes you’ve seen in better films, “Space Sweepers” would leave you blackout drunk. All you need to know is that the plot revolves around trying to seize the MacGuffin child Kot-nim.
If you come in expecting a hard-hitting science fiction film that tackles prescient issues through the guise of epic space battles, don’t. Weirdly enough, “Space Sweepers” does make for a very satisfying family road-trip film. The film is at its best when it focuses on the cutesy familial dynamics that quickly unfurl. It certainly helps that the dialogue between the different characters gives each of them clear, distinct personality.
None of them are very original, though. You’ve got your femme fatale, tough softie, wisecracking smartass and reluctant hero packaged ensemble. Korean actress Kim Tae-ri plays the badass space pirate Captain Jang. Then you have the brooding anti-hero Tae-Ho played by Song Joong-Ki who, you guessed it, has a tragic backstory. By far, the best performances are given by Jin Seon-Kyu as the bighearted Tiger Park and child actor Park Ye-Rin as Kot-nim. Oh and there’s a pretty funny bit with Yu Hae-Jin playing a robot who longs to be beautiful.
There are some genuine moments of heart, comedy and drama between the group when the plot calls for it. This is all due to spirited performances by the main cast members who alone elevate this film. Especially Park Ye-Rin as the adorable Kot-nim. Sure it’s cheesy schmaltz but we’re not above it.
Beyond the main five, though, there is no salvation. Nobody seems to have any higher purpose than to be cannon fodder for our heroes. Everyone else’s performance is either plain-flat or painfully overacted. Richard Armitage, who played Thorin Oakenshield in “The Hobbit” films, is the latter’s most egregious offender. Holy shit, the man is a walking caricature. It gets even worse when you consider his convoluted motivations. If he was just some rich, evil tycoon trying to make more money, then fine. Sure. Cliche but it’s coherent.
In the film, he babbles on about how morals and human worth are baked into human genes and how if someone does bad things…they have bad genes. So he only wants the good people, who have the good DNA? Look, we feel dumber for writing this already. It doesn’t take long for Armitage’s James Sullivan to throw away any restraint and devolve into some villainous psychopath. Near the end, he’s downright demonic. It borders on parody.
The aesthetics in the film takes a page right out of the Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending”. The effects and ship models look fine upon first glance. They have some visible wear and tear which lends some credibility. It’s when the action kicks into the high gear that you start to notice some of the less polished visual blemishes. The carnage and destruction left in the wake of these ship battles feel weightless and dull. As if everything is made off super-bouncy material. It clashes with the film’s more cyberpunk industrial visuals.
The final space battle in the film nearly broke immersion for us. The amount of contrivances made to end the final act with a bang felt unearned. Let’s just say, the Victory crew made a lot of enemies and then…they didn’t. You’ll get your feel-good catharsis but it ultimately comes of as cheap.
“Space Sweepers” is the amalgamation of at least three different sci-fi films, and it’s better than none of them. If it wasn’t for the cast’s stellar performance and chemistry on-screen, we can assure you that this film would have had a much lower score. Borrowed plot-lines, paper-thin premises and Armitage’s cringe-inducing part leaves little worth salvaging here. If you are looking to kill a couple of hours with some mindless fun without paying attention too much to the plot, then this is the film for you. You can now catch “Space Sweepers” on Netflix streaming services.
So what are your thoughts on Netflix’s “Space Sweepers”? Was the film far too familiar in plot and execution to other sci-fi classics? Did you have a rip-roaring good time or found it a mediocre mess? Be sure to let us know in the comments down below!