Sci-fi can take lots of forms; it can be optimistic or pessimistic; it can be bright and colorful or grey and dark; Space is infinite after all. Space Sweepers is a little bit of everything and a whole lot of fun. The characters, the setting, the story, they have heart and deal with some dark material, but the purpose of the movie is quite obvious: It wants to be colorful, fun, and exciting; it succeeds. It wants to provide likeable characters with enjoyable banter and interesting group dynamics; it succeeds. It wants to have a societal subtext and give characters some dimensions, have them deal with situations that propose dilemmas and showcase their darker sides; well, it’s not a complete success, but it tries and its not annoying. Tl;dr Space Sweepers is a pretty good blockbuster sci-fi of a less serious nature and you should make two hours to see it.
The movie follows the outcast group of space junk collectors of a ship called “Victory” as they stumble upon a ‘surprise’ in their latest haul; a humanoid robot called Dorothy that is supposed to be a weapon of mass destruction. They see this as an opportunity to make money, but all is not as it seems with the robot. The first thing this type of movie needs to nail is the characters and their dynamic with each other, which is where the movie has its best moments; from protagonist Tae-ho to captain Jang, engineer Tiger Park, and the quirky robot (called robot), the cast of characters is extremely likeable and memorable, which only gets better when you add Dorothy into the group. Tae-ho is the pilot of the ship with a sad past and an honorable goal, Captain Jang is the cool lady of the group that is mysterious and has one of the coolest reveals in the movie, while Tiger is a tattoo-covered badass with a shady past, and Robot is by far the most fun character in the group and with the most humane and contemporary goal of all. These are desperate characters all running away from something, all tolerating each other because of their common need for money and having their shared skill set together being the only plausible way they will ever gather enough money. Space Sweepers is not Space Odyssey or Sunshine levels of philosophical sci-fi, but the characterization is not simple or rudimentary; their goals, needs, and personalities are all interconnected with the story and how the characters progress and change. It is an ultimately simple story, but that simplicity allows the relationships to grow, the characters to endear themselves and change in satisfying ways, and it creates amble opportunities for great banter between them and great action scenes. Despite that being the major focus of the movie, the story has also seen a lot of great care put into it; there were many moments in the movie that reveal certain aspects that worked remarkably well, as they were properly set up and foreshadowed, but also because they add even more dimensions and depth to the story. There are some reveals about our leads that are especially memorable, but the social subtexts of the story are especially well done, considering this does not sell it self as a Cyberpunk movie; the subplot of Robot’s identity, the running themes of debt and how the rich look at the world, how people change in different circumstances, and how good deeds have consequences in a broken world. This is really well done, especially considering that, above all, this is a space blockbuster.
I, usually, complain about the overuse of CGI in movies, but I always maintain that it is more of a fatigue and distaste of those elements over practical effects in scenarios that both are achievable; I say this because I really liked the action in Space Sweepers. Maybe it was because so many of the other elements are well done that, I didn’t need to focus on the action to find entertainment, or because I cared for the characters and was invested in their actions, the stakes were more important, but those would be two pretty good reasons to care about any action movie; regardless of those though, the CGI isn’t especially memorable as good-looking or costly, yet the creativity of the set pieces made them enjoyable. From the crew’s early heist, to the climactic final battle, and everything in between, there was a lot of action and a lot of exciting set pieces to enjoy along the way, like the night club scene and a stealth set piece amongst many.
Furthermore, the casting decisions were great as all the actors were especially good in their roles; from Song Joong-ki as Tae-ho, Kim Tae-ri as Captain Jang, Seon-kyu Jin as Tiger, Hae Jin-Yoo as the voice of Robot, and Richard Armitage (voice of Trevor Belmont in the recent Castlevania series) as movie villain Sullivan, they all are given excellent material to work with and produce great results. Armitage, in particular, plays such a two-dimensional villain, yet makes him really fun to watch. His character can get annoying at times and it would have worked a lot better if he was given an interesting personality, but he is immediately seen as a scumbag and the audience just wants to see him fail, which at least makes him effective.
As far as flaws go, there is only one thing that springs to mind; the ending. Although it fits well enough with the overall tone of the movie, I did wish it would follow through with what it sets up or have a different set piece to end with that would allow the end state to come more naturally. Beyond that, I really enjoyed Space Sweepers, especially as an old-school sci-fi-action blockbuster with a lot of heart and great writing; it is also a movie filled with unusual names (to me due to cultural differences), multiple languages, and a fully-fledged sci-fi world to showcase, yet it does with such efficiency, style, and skill that it would be hard to dislike it, especially considering what other similar, “mainstream” movies have become recently. Overall, it is a great movie that will satisfy most movie fans, and I hope it does well for Netflix and we get to see more from Korean cinema and more from this team, in particular.