SPACEMAN Goes Into Deep Space But Fails to Find Much Depth

Netflix’s Spaceman has everything it needs to be the next great meditative sci-fi story. It stars a compelling, understated Adam Sandler as Jakub, a Czech cosmonaut on a solo mission to investigate a strange purple cloud that appeared near Jupiter without explanation. Six months into his lonely year-long mission the weary traveler finds a giant talking spider (perfectly voiced by Paul Dano)—who may or may not be real—on board. But the heart of the film is a relatable human story about relationships, guilt, and hiding from our past, as the selfish Jakub must also contend with his collapsing marriage to Carey Mulligan’s Lenka. Only, the sum of the movie comes up far short of its parts, as confusing filmmaking choices and subpar storytelling prevents Spaceman from reaching its potential.

Director Johan Renck’s new sci-fi drama is based on Jaroslav Kalfař’s 2017 novel Spaceman of Bohemia. It’s easy to see why Renck chose Sandler as his lead. Few actors convey bubbling anger like Sandler, and his understated performance captures Jakub’s deep underlying pain without an over-the-top performance. Sandler also deftly handles both the film’s humor and sadness, while Dano carries its strangeness and Mulligan its humanity. The movie’s problems have nothing to do with its performers and everything to do with how it tells its story.

At no point is Spaceman scary. Yet the first 30 minutes are scored and shot like a horror movie. That might have worked if its giant spider Hanuš (who claims to be from the beginning of time itself) was even remotely terrifying. But the film doesn’t even play the loving, insightful, wise Hanuš’ first appearance that way. His arrival is genuinely funny. Sandler’s Jakub is suffering from insomnia and bad dreams and he even he knows this bizarre creature might be nothing more than the manifestation of a mental breakdown. Their relationship is mostly humorous. That’s how the actors play it in most scenes.

But what we see the characters doing doesn’t match how the film presents their actions. It’s confusing, discordant filmmaking. It’s like watching a comedy inside a horror movie, only neither genre can figure out what the other is doing there. And that’s before pure sci-fi, love story, and drama show up to stake their own genre claim.

A giant spider seen up close in Spaceman

Not knowing how to tell its story is the primary problem that plagues the entire film. It’s ultimately a contemplative reflection on love and life, but the movie is too slow in developing those ideas. The script opts to slowly peel back the many layers of Jakub’s past and his relationship with Lenka,. That approach can certainly be highly effective, but here it feels empty.

We don’t know what’s actually wrong with this marriage until way too late. And what we do know before then isn’t interesting enough to carry us to the big payoff, which doesn’t land as a result of the poor foundation laid for it. Especially not when watching Jakub’s relationship with Hanuš (or is it his own mind?) is far more captivating. Even the mystery of the purple space cloud is more fascinating than the marriage at the heart of the film, which is a huge problem since the cloud is only there to serve the main story.

Carey Mulligan looks at Adam Sandler from up close in Spaceman

By not adequately developing its most important idea, Spaceman‘s big final sequence doesn’t come close to carrying either the emotional heft or profundity it’s clearly trying to achieve. What should be the best part of the movie is its least interesting moment. It’s also trite. The film attempts to say something deep, but there’s nothing new that much better films haven’t previously explored with far more effectiveness. Spaceman has elements of Solaris, Moon, Gravity, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Insomnia, Interstellar, and many other films I’d much rather rewatch.

Outside of its really excellent cast, all of the things Spaceman does well leaves you wanting so much more. The film never gives us enough of anything. It’s strange, but not strange enough. Funny, but not funny enough. Sad, but not sad enough. It also has minor elements of social commentary and historical perspective. The film needed to either cut those aspects entirely or explore them further. Instead they both feel like a good idea lacking meaningful development.

Adam Sandler with a beard in an astronaut helmet in Spaceman

That’s exactly what Spaceman is—a lot of good ideas lacking development. It’s definitely not a disaster, because Sandler and Dano’s characters are fascinating enough to make you invested in where their story will go. But their journey isn’t good enough to compensate for a disappointing destination. There’s simply not enough depth in this deep space drama to justify the trip.

Spaceman hits Netflix on March 1.


Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on   Twitter and   Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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