Young adult novels are all the rage still … right? They’re so popular nowadays that it isn’t the least bit surprising that The Space Between Us feels like one without actually being adapted from a YA novel. Starring Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson, the film acts as a road trip movie but doesn’t have any of the discovery that would normally entail. Even when you have the core premise of a boy born and raised on Mars finally experiencing Earth for the first time, it takes an incredible lack of competence to turn that into a terrible romance with no depth.
The Space Between Us is kind of hilarious when it starts. Gary Oldman gives a passionate speech about how great it is that NASA will be able to colonize on Mars. Sending five astronauts there, the only mission they have is to colonize the planet and prove its sustainability. Things get complicated when the one female astronaut is pregnant and is forced to have her child on Mars. She dies giving birth to him, but he makes it out alive. Due to the different atmosphere and gravity, NASA keeps the boy secret since they can’t bring him back safely from Mars.
Flash forward to the boy as a teenager and Butterfield stars as Gardner Elliot, a teenager with a body of cybernetics, a knack for disobedience, a girl he’s been chatting with on Earth and a strong desire to visit her. So when he’s finally let on the planet, it seems likely he won’t be able to actually explore. Thus begins a chase which seems impossibly difficult to comprehend as Oldman and Carla Gugino’s characters hunt down Gardner and Tulsa (Robertson), who are on a quest to find Gardner’s father.
When I compared The Space Between Us to a young adult novel I was specifically thinking of Paper Towns, which was written by John Green and adapted into a film. The road trip concept felt explored in that movie but with this one, it really doesn’t have much weight to it. The only learning that Gardner ever does is through his heavy-handed questions to Earthlings, “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?”
In fact, most of this film has Gardner and Tulsa acting like characters from a Green novel – blunt questions and socially awkward characters, plus adults who seem to just be visiting the film’s world and don’t actually understand or inhabit it.
The unfortunate thing is that I can see the world building there. Take the fact that Tulsa steals a car by just using her phone, or how all the computers have translucent monitors built into school desks. They’re neat touches in a film that doesn’t seem to have any idea why it even has those there. I would argue that the movie has some sort of commentary on how focused we are on technology because of how much that has evolved but everything else in the world still seems the same. I can’t imagine a world where I would give the director that much credit though. Peter Chelsom doesn’t seem to really know what kind of movie he wanted to do, other than some sort of road trip movie
And boy is it ever a road trip movie or what? How much pop music with faint hints of folk do you think this movie can pack into itself? The correct answer is a lot. When the score isn’t consistently upbeat, it’s replaced with a soundtrack of every generic song you’d expect to hear in a movie for tweens. The score almost never fits within the film, despite insisting that it should always be there. What is even weirder are the allusions to other films like Wings of Desire and North by Northwest in a movie where none of that even matters. No decision in this film feels justified because everything works against it.
While Gary Oldman continues his streak of being better than the movies he’s starring in, everyone else brings less than nothing to the table. Butterfield is forced to walk around like he just soiled himself and talk like he’s never talked to anyone before in his life (guess that colony on Mars just ignored him), Robertson continues to be the same character she is in every movie (see: annoying and thinks she’s smarter than everyone else), and Gugino plays the mom who isn’t actually a mom. The performances are bad, the characters are one-note, and the two combine to serve as easy-to-look-at vehicles for plot movement.
I could get nitpicky about how much this movie shows NASA as a terrible organization with little to no security, yet somehow were able to keep a child being born and raised on Mars as classified information. I could complain how an adult can’t catch up to a child who is weighted down significantly more by gravity. I could even complain how the movie ends with an incredibly unsurprising twist. There’s also the fact that Tulsa hacks cars that are clearly too old to have whatever technology she is using within them. I could even complain about Oldman’s character being more proficient in medicine than a doctor administering blood tests. There’s just so many things wrong with this movie and nothing works in combination with anything else to help this movie. In short, The Space Between Us is a mess in both identity and logic. Keep as much space between you and this movie as possible.
The Space Between Us
- Gary Oldman is still Gary Oldman
- When the story does make sense, it's utterly boring
- Very little acting to not hate here
- Soundtrack does not fit with the film at all
- So many illogical moments that this feels like it is exploiting the science fiction tag
- This movie has no identity at all