Space Sweepers (2021)

There haven’t been any new releases during this neverending pandemic that have made me miss the big-budget blockbuster experience. Maybe it’s because titles like Tenet, Mulan, and Wonder Woman ’84 have been locked behind exorbitantly expensive paywalls, followed by a mile-high wave of tepid reviews. There have been plenty of mind-melting arthouse experiments released straight to VOD in the last year that I would have loved to have seen in a proper theater, but it feels as if the bigger studios have been holding back The Good Stuff when it comes to their money-making popcorn movies. Space Sweepers is the definitive end to that drought. The straight-to-Netflix Korean blockbuster is the exact kind of sci-fi pulp entertainment I miss seeing on the big screen with easily pleased opening-weekend crowds and buckets of overpriced snacks. It’s doubtful that Netflix would have ever released Space Sweepers to giant-screen multiplexes even in “Normal” times, but all the same it’s the first film released in the past year that truly made me miss the summer blockbuster ritual.

Like with all multiplex blockbusters, the action sequences in Space Sweepers are a confounding CGI cacophony, just as difficult to remember after the credits as they are to comprehend in the moment. I was genuinely lost during the opening set piece, in which rival crews of space-junk scavengers race for possession of a malfunctioning satellite or cargo vessel or whatever. It’s the character beats between those blurred-CG action sequences that distinguish these monster-budget sci-fi spectacles anyway. In this case, the audience plays stowaway with a motley crew of intergalactic junkyard scavengers captained by The Handmaiden‘s Kim Tae-ri. Their go-nowhere routine of working their way deeper & deeper into debt is disrupted when they accidentally scoop up a dangerous bomb disguised as the most adorable child in the universe. That pricey, lethal, cute-as-a-button cargo puts them at odds with an evil white capitalist who runs what’s remaining of humanity as a technocratic megacorporation. The resulting conflict is essentially The Guardians of the Galaxy vs. Elon Musk, with all the money-torching glut & irreverent, character-based humor that descriptor implies.

Space Sweepers works best as an intergalactic hangout film. Any scene that doesn’t involve the ragtag space crew interacting with their adorable kid/bomb cargo can only feel generic by comparison, including all the laser shoot-outs & space-chase action sequences that eat up most of the budget. The more you get to know the crew the easier it is to be charmed by the film at large. From the tough-guy lone wolves learning to care for a defenseless child-bomb to the transgender android scrounging spare credits to purchase their ideal body (a much more explicit version of the allegory teased in Alita: Battle Angel), it’s a pure joy getting to know these reformed reprobates. I also cannot stress enough how cute the kid-bomb they’re debating whether to sell is. The cutest. It’s the exact effect I get from most big-budget crowdpleasers at the multiplex: I may forget everything that happens to them, but if the characters are likeable enough than I don’t really care. These characters are very, very likeable, and I’d happily pay money to see their adventures continue with an in-the-flesh crowd on the other side of this eternal hell year.

-Brandon Ledet

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