Some people like tumbleweed and six-shooters. Others prefer monsters and crucifixes. It’s no shame; de gustibus non est disputandum, and all that. If zero gravity, pandemonium at Mission Control and white figures bobbing against the blackness of infinity launch your rocket, then this high-tech Hilary Swank vehicle is for you. Everyone else should probably tiptoe Away.
Swank plays Emma Green, America’s top astronaut, controversially picked to be commander on the first manned flight to Mars. Alongside her are Misha Popov from Russia (resentful), Lu Wang of China (suspicious), Ram Arya of India (enthusiastic) and Kwesi Weisberg-Adebayo, a complete duffer from Great Britain. The mission’s psychological consultant, Putney, has seemingly done a terrible job in vetting them, as even before take-off they are gelling about as well as gravel in a trifle.
Emma’s husband, Matt (Josh Charles), chief engineer on the rocket, was also an astronaut until ill health got in the way: “Apparently I do have my dad’s bad gene.” His role is mainly to look noble in a bandage. Emma wants to give up the mission to stay home with him and their daughter, but is finally persuaded to go ahead for the sake of womanity (“You’re talking feminist bullshit?”). Matt and Emma have a farewell bonk — “I love you, shithead!” — and the first part of the journey, to the Moon, gets under way.
It looks like Netflix have spent a fortune on everything but the script. There are so many moments where you want to slap your head in frustration that you might need a helmet. The laboured hint that one of the crew members is secretly gay is one of them; another is the way the British astronaut is so heavily laden with labels he can hardly move, being a saintly Ghana-born black Jewish botanist with the most pukka of RP accents. The poor actor, Ato Essandoh, can do little with the role. There’s never been a character more in need of a few stiff drinks and an invitation to the dance.
Emma is the best astronaut in the world (although Misha has clocked up more space hours) but she has a decidedly cinematic view of leadership. Why let the more experienced astronaut fix a problem when you can grandstand and take insane risks because the script says you don’t die? “Spacewalk is like war!” snarls Misha (Mark Ivanir, respectable). “I can do it”’ “You’re crazy!” “What the hell is she doing?” The Brit starts praying. “We’ve lost visual!” “Take my hand . . . ” “Oh!” “Yes!” “I need you alive!” The Russian astronaut literally makes puppets. It must be a metaphor.
On Netflix from September 4
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