16 April 2024
A bearded man in a space helmet looks forlornly just off-camera.

Film Review – Spaceman (2024)

A bearded man in a space helmet looks forlornly just off-camera.

The collaboration between Netflix and Adam Sandler hasn’t exactly paid dividends so far. For every success like The Meyerowitz Stories, there’s a great big dud like The Ridiculous 6, and the highlight of the whole endeavour is almost inarguably the magnificent Uncut Gems, which Netflix didn’t produce, only distributing internationally. He seems to do better when working with more dramatic fare, so could Spaceman make for another addition to the win column?

It follows a Czech astronaut, Jakub Prochazka (Sandler – don’t worry, neither he nor anybody else in the cast even attempts a Czech accent) on a voyage beyond Jupiter to investigate a cloud of glowing cosmic dust. His marriage is on the rocks and he’s on the verge of a mental breakdown, which would spell disaster for his one-man mission. Just as the cracks are starting to show, he discovers an alien stowaway on board his ship, whom he names Hanuš and who tries to help Jakub fix his life.

Spaceman is a peculiar movie. It’s well put-together in most respects, with particularly good visual design for the spaceship: it looks cold, claustrophobic, and unwelcoming, and the chunky analogue controls nicely recall the Soviet and post-Soviet spacecraft it’s presumably descended from. The performances are strong and Sandler does good work as a man on the brink of a complete meltdown, even if Carey Mulligan feels underused. It’s all perfectly fine.

But that’s the problem: it’s fine, but never more than that, and it also comes across as deeply familiar. We have an astronaut with a foundering marriage (First Man), who’s on a voyage into deep space while grappling with daddy issues (Ad Astra), some timey-wimey alien shenanigans that blur his perception of past and future (Arrival), and the inevitable “beyond the infinite”, 2001-aping conclusion that’s seemingly mandatory for films like this. It spends so much of its runtime reminding you of other movies, inviting comparisons that do it no favours, and making you wonder why you aren’t just watching one of them instead. There’s very little here that’s outright bad, but there’s also nothing that you haven’t seen already; everything it does has been done before and much, much better.

It would also have been nice if there had been a little ambiguity over whether Hanuš is real or just a figment of Jakub’s imagination as his mind deteriorates. Still, the movie doesn’t seem interested in questioning whether or not there is a giant alien spider on board the ship and just goes with it. It also feels indicative of the overall lack of originality that Hanuš is just a really big spider rather than a more creative alien design, but Paul Dano does entertain in a voice role, giving this alien arachnid a serenity and wisdom that’s enjoyably at odds with his monstrous shape.

In one of the film’s more amusing touches, Hanuš briefly cradles a giant tub of off-brand Nutella while commenting on how the chocolate-and-hazelnut flavour is good for easing depression. It’s a cute touch and genuinely funny, but it also provides a weirdly appropriate metaphor for the movie. Spaceman is that tub of off-brand Nutella: it’s enjoyable enough and there’s little to complain about, but there’s also very little that’s exciting or memorable. When you’ve had the real thing, it’s hard to return to the cheapo alternative.

If only it had been, as this critic briefly hoped, a secret biopic of Dr. Leo Spaceman (pronounced “spa-che-min”) from 30 Rock.

★★

Streaming on Netflix from 1 March | Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, Kunal Nayyar | Dir: Johan Renck | Netflix | 15


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