(2021) Science Fiction (Netflix) Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, Toni Collette, Dan Berry, Scott Manley. Directed by Joe Penna
Space is like the ocean. It is vast and uncaring, a dangerous environment that humans can’t survive in for very long. It is nonetheless necessary for humanity to travel in it if it is to leave our shores for other places, to expand our footprint and learn more about who we are and the universe we live in.
A spaceship is launched, bound for a new colony on Mars. The three-person crew is Marina Barnett (Collette), commander of the mission; Dr. David Kim (Kim), a biologist, and Dr. Zoe Levenson (Kendrick), the ship’s medic. There’s a bit of a glitch on liftoff, but otherwise things go smoothly and the trio find themselves on a two-year journey to Mars.
Except that there isn’t just three of them. Barnett discovers, in a crawlspace, Michael Adams (Anderson), a low-level engineer who had been making a final inspection before getting knocked unconscious. Because of the nature of the ship (it relies on slingshots from gravity wells and has little fuel aboard other than to make course corrections), returning to Earth is not an option. They might have to ration tings a bit, but they should be able to make it to Mars okay, and Adams manages to make himself a part of the crew, despite his initial panic and the awful realization that his developmentally disabled sister will be without him for an extended period of time.
But the accident that knocked him out also damaged the life support system and it becomes clear that the ship doesn’t have enough oxygen to sustain the four of them all the way to Mars. There’s only enough for three. And it will fall on Barnett to make the decision that will ultimately haunt them all, unless someone can figure out a way to delive additional oxygen to the crippled ship.
The hard science here is actually very believable; the type of ship that the crew are using is one that is actually being developed for manned missions to Mars. In that sense, the movie is more like The Martian and Gravity than the average space opera. The spaceship looks believably fragile and the production design is spot on.
There is also an impressive cast and they respond impressively. Kendrick is a bit of a revelation; this isn’t the kind of role she is normally cast in, but she turns out to be perfect for it. Her bubbly effervescence that has made her a star is coupled with a warm compassion and scientific competence that makes her character the most fully rounded of any in the movie. She serves as the film’s conscience and while Collette lends gravitas to the part (and is as always, excellent), Kendrick lends humanity. Kim, a marvelous actor who should be getting cast in lead roles at this point, continues to do wonderful work in supporting roles. Somebody give this guy a movie of his own!
One has to really suspend disbelief to accept that someone could even accidentally be left on board a spaceship that was being launched for Mars; it just doesn’t seem likely, not even in a commercial enterprise as depicted here. The ending, which follows a set piece that is as exciting and as nerve-wracking as any you’ll see in any major movie this year, is a bit maudlin and does dampen my enthusiasm for the film somewhat, but it shows the kind of movie that Netflix excels at releasing, and while I might wish this could be seen on a big screen (especially for the set piece I referred to earlier which would be absolutely spectacular), it nonetheless should be one that all Netflix subscribers should be checking out.
REASONS TO SEE: Strong cast giving strong performances. Realistic in scope and feel.
REASONS TO AVOID: Preposterous plot and maudlin ending.
FAMILY VALUES: There are adult themes, some profanity and plenty of peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The spaceship set can now be experienced as part of the studio tour at Bavaria Filmstadt just south of Munich.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/7/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews; Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mission to Mars
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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