The year is 2092. All of the forests on Earth have vanished and the planet is overrun with sprawling deserts and an acidic soil which causes plants to perish. An organisation titled UTS Corporation have stepped in to offer individuals refuge aboard their luxurious spaceship – that is, if you can afford it. UTS is spearheaded by an Elon Musk-esque supervillain James Sullivan (Richard Armitage) – a 152-year-old man who looks like he’s still in his 40s thanks to his own questionable scientific research and genetically-modified crops. But orbiting Earth isn’t enough for Sullivan – he’s set his eyes on building a colony on Mars and will do everything in his power to achieve it. Although Sullivan is dubbed a ‘saviour of humanity’ by his own organisation, 95% of the human population is still living on the uninhabitable Earth. Among these so-called ‘non-citizens’ (anyone who can’t afford to stay on UTS’ spacecraft) are the crew members of the ‘Victory’ ship – a gang of outlaws who make their money collecting and selling space debris. Accidentally getting tangled up in Sullivan’s plans to colonize Mars, the ragtag Victory crew are left fighting for their lives across the solar system as they try to stop UTS’ evil plans to dominate the universe. Directed by Jo Sung-hee, Netflix’s new Korean blockbuster Space Sweepers is a light-hearted and engrossing larger-than-life exploration of space.
Photo © Netflix
Leading the Victory crew is the effortlessly cool Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri) – a former member of the UTS Genius Programme who once led a failed assassination attempt on Sullivan. Among her crew is Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu) an ex-drug lord, Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin) a quick-witted and chatty robot, and Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki) – a former child soldier and ex-member of Sullivan’s ‘Space Guards’ squad. Behind on taxes and deep in debt – Park is even fleeing a death sentence on Earth – the Victory crew are barely scraping by as they try to manage life on the outskirts of Earth’s orbit. However, their luck changes when they stumble across a young girl, Dorothy (Park Ye-rin) hiding aboard their ship. Dorothy isn’t just any normal little girl – she’s an android hosting a nuclear bomb who is being widely searched for by both UTS and an extremist terrorist group named The Black Foxes. Seeing the huge reward being offered for Dorothy’s return, the Victory crew scramble to give Dorothy back to whoever is offering the most cash. However, things don’t quite go to plan as morals get in the way of money and the crew find out the real reason why UTS want Dorothy so bad.
Photo © Netflix
Space Sweepers blends together all of the best elements of space opera as it explores colossal space battles, awe-inspiring visuals, second-to-none technology, and a romanticised notion that a group of underdogs can defeat a towering, omnipotent evil overlord. While demonstrating a palpable passion for sci-fi, the film isn’t the most original or ground-breaking take on the genre as it rehashes a lot of set-ups, visuals, and character archetypes often found in sci-fi without expanding upon or re-energizing them. However, this doesn’t necessarily make Space Sweepers unenjoyable or not entertaining – but it certainly makes it a lot more predictable. To counteract this predictability, the film then stuffs itself full of twists, turns, and almost sub-plots to try and throw audiences off knowing what will happen next. Instances such as characters holding onto minuscule mouth-bombs for years (the narrative has an affinity for bomb plots), the half-explained reason why violent red veins often break out onto Sullivan’s skin, and the mysterious ‘super plant’ UTS hold are never fully explained or amount to anything – making the film feel a bit convoluted and underexplained at times.
Photo © Netflix
Like many other ecofiction stories, the root of many problems in Space Sweepers is the fact that Earth has become completely uninhabitable. At first, this is explained with a vague hint towards human activity and global warming – ‘humans are dirty’ Sullivan froths in one scene. However, as the story progresses it’s hinted that in fact UTS have been the catalyst to Earth’s destruction. It’s revealed that the corporation have been draining the planet’s resources and dumping toxic waste on Earth (perhaps why the soil is unable to grow anything). Taking a look at the often destructive and wasteful nature of rampant consumerism and capitalism, Space Sweepers examines how big corporations’ activities and greed is often closely linked to climate change. The film also notes how those first to suffer the effects of global warming are the poor and working class. Those stuck on Earth have to wear gas masks on their daily commute to work while the rich can afford to safely hide out on Sullivan’s extravagant spaceship and forget about the destroyed Earth below. By focusing on those people just desperately trying to get by – and the bonds they form with each other – Space Sweepers paints a bittersweet but charming dynamic of a group of people coming together to form a surrogate family. Between their bickering and awful bartering skills are some endearing, hilarious, and wholesome moments as the crew try to take care of young Dorothy.
A hodgepodge of so many different inspirations and influences, Space Sweepers may not be the most innovative or unique take on the sci-fi genre but it’s still undoubtedly a fun and spirited watch. Containing some stale dialogue, messy plotlines, and corny tropes but also brimming with some mesmerizing visuals and a tonne of charisma – Space Sweepers is nevertheless a bright and ambitious action-packed adventure.
Written by Abi Aherne