The Space Between Us - Review: Keep Your Distance
In many ways, it's the process of finding your own world. Until that point, our thoughts and emotions are more derived from influences like the way our parents want us to like or the things our friends are into. It’s the point where one question comes to the forefront, “Actually.... what do I think?”. As such, everything else can sometimes seem like a confusing alien world.... but what if it actually was? That’s the case with our latest teen drama/science fiction offering The Space Between Us. What’s that old saying..... Men are from Mars and women want to blow up Mars? Well, this time, at least the first part is literal.
Gardner (Asa Butterfield – Enders Game, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children) was the first human born on Mars after his astronaut mother become pregnant prior to leaving Earth. Now, 16 years later he gets to see Earth for the first time and track down his father alongside his Earth girl Skype pal Tulsa (Britt Robertson – Tomorrowland, Under the Dome)... but can his body survive on another world?
So this boils down to being a science fiction teen coming-of-age/romantic drama. Surprisingly, the science fiction element is the weakest part despite being so integral to the premise. This near future world with Gary Oldman’s (The Dark Knight, Child 44) Genesis company acting as a more productive SpaceX feels very technologically inconsistent; you can instant message between Earth and Mars and hotwire a car with a smart phone yet a high-tech NASA robot looks like an 80's reject. Then there’s the East Texas Mars colony, which looks and feels far too elaborate for a pledge of near reality. Speaking of looks, both the Mars landscape and space travel CG effects look TV standard at best. If woefully exposes the films rom-com level budget at $30m (even 50 Shades got a $40m bankroll). There is some good science-based material concerning Gardner’s biology and body being physically ill-equipped for Earth’s stronger gravity than Mars. He even becomes a carbon fiber Wolverine just to make this remotely possible.
The story hits a lot of turbulence too with space being one of its key problems. The film takes quite a bit of time to get going with a lot more setup than it really needs in the journey to Mars and Gardner’s birth. Then when things do finally hit the boosters and we get Gardner and Tulsa together on Earth, the navigation picks up a master failure and things frequently become quite directionless. Instead of a coming-of-road trip, things turn into a messy chase movie. It forgets it’s supposed to be all about Gardner’s discovery in a new world but instead of letting him take that journey he’s constantly knocked off the road by attempts to inject action elements into proceedings.... badly. It’s best summed up by a moment of making Gary Oldman fall out of a van for no reason like a drunk guy attempting an army roll (not exactly flash Gordon). On top of that, Allan Loeb’s script (Collateral Beauty) isn’t great. It’s like a star-lit sky, small specs of brightness amidst mostly black nothingness. For every decent dialogue exchange, there several awful ones either dunked in cheese, saturated with cliché or are just plain dull. The whole, “What’s your favourite thing about Earth?” refrain feels nothing but corny.
The film has one big saving grace though that pulls it like gravity towards at least being watchable, or more precisely two in its young leads of Butterfield and Robertson. Butterfield has a great knack for playing a socially-awkward character as shown in the likes of Ender's Game and X+Y. He takes that same approach but wraps it in relentless happiness to really capture the idea of someone experiencing things like rain or a chesse burger for the first time. In fact, all of the film’s best moments come from seeing his character going through such experiences. He even brings good physical acting too like his stomping/wire figure-like walk while adjusting to the heavier Earth gravity. Then there’s Robertson. Despite her character being far less defined, she makes a good foil for Butterfield in balancing frustrations at his awkwardness with matching his enjoyment of their adventures. If you liked her in Tomorrowland, you’d certainly enjoy her here. Even though the romance between them is a complete smash cut in tone from the moment Tulsa spontaneously ditches her alternative girl look for a some River Tam Robertson (dress and combat boots); it’s still rather enjoyable. Much of it is overdone (like Fault In Our Stars fallen to Earth) but the pair’s chemistry makes them a very likeable couple.
Although it may look like a film and story you haven’t seen before ultimately, The Space Between Us devolves into an inferior version of films you already know. It isn’t an epic and ill-fated intergalactic love story; it’s just a poorly realized science fiction film with some endearing young adult charms. If the likes of Divergent will send you into orbit then consider giving it a try. Otherwise, you’ll be better off keeping that space between you and this film.