Stowaway (2021) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): Three astronauts and a stowaway

Netflix film “Stowaway”, which was released on last Thursday, attempts to do pretty familiar stuffs in the middle of the space. While it works to some degree thanks to its competent direction and the solid performances from its few main cast members, the movie does not bring anything particular new or refreshing to its genre territory in my humble opinion, and we simply come to watch its pedestrian plot trudging from one expected narrative point from another without enough care or attention.

At the beginning, the movie promptly establishes the premise surrounding its three astronaut characters: Marina Barnett (Toni Collett), David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), and Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). They have just begun their two-year mission to Mars, and the opening scene shows us how anxious they are during the launch of their spaceship. Things can go wrong at any point, and, not so surprisingly, there comes a trouble which may lead to the cancellation of their mission, but everything is eventually under control once they enter the space as planned and then begin their long journey toward Mars.

Under the command of Barnett, who will supervise the navigation of their spaceship, Levenson and Kim begin to focus on their respective scientific projects, and we observe some playful interactions between these three astronauts. Yes, they will surely miss the Earth a lot, but they have been trained and prepared a lot for their mission, and it seems that time will go well for everyone as long as they do their best as a team during next two years.

However, they come across a serious unexpected trouble even before their first day in the space ends. An unconscious man is found inside the spaceship, and he turns out to be an engineer worker named Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson). Neither the astronauts nor Adams knows how the hell his unconscious body happened to be inside the spaceship, and, to our frustration, the movie never delves into this mystery at all.

Anyway, the astronauts have no choice but to accept Adams as the fourth member of their team, and Adams is eager to help them as much as he can despite his lack of training and experience, though he misses a lot his younger sister left on the Earth. For example, he assists Kim’s ongoing plant research, and, as a former graduate student, I was amused a bit by when Kim and Levenson jokingly discuss on whether Kim should officially recognize Adams’ contribution on whatever he will publish after the mission.

Meanwhile, Barnett becomes more conflicted because she has been aware of one certain problem right from when Adams was discovered. At the time of its discovery, his unconscious body inadvertently damaged an important machine which removes carbon dioxide in the air inside the spaceship, and it subsequently becomes quite apparent to Barnett that there is no way to fix that machine. She surely tries to search for any alternative options as consulting with the mission control as well as Kim, but it seems that she and others in the spaceship will inevitably face the lethal possibility of carbon dioxide poisoning unless she and her two fellow astronauts resort to a certain drastic choice.

When Barnett eventually discusses with Kim and Levenson in private, Kim and Levenson respond to this bad situation differently. While Kim starts to reflect more and more on that drastic choice in question, Levenson strongly believes that they must go for any possible way to avoid that, and Barnett comes to decide that they should wait and try during next several days before making the final decision.

The screenplay by director Joe Penna and his co-write Ryan Morrison, who previously collaborated with Penna in “Arctic” (2018), tries to build up tension bit by bit after that narrative point, but it only comes to falter more while not going that far beyond our expectation. The situation for the main characters certainly gets worse with decreasing options for them, but this often feels contrived while accompanied with a series of trite character development moments, and we come to observe their situation from the distance even as recognizing what is being at stake for them.

Anyway, I appreciated several good aspects of the movie to some degree. Its special effects are fairly excellent on the whole, though I must tell you that the overall result will not blow your mind like “Gravity” (2013) or “Interstellar” (2014) did. While often fluidly moving around the characters in the movie, cinematographer Klemens Becker’s camera gives us several commendable visual moments, and I particularly like a gradually tense sequence unfolded outside the spaceship later in the story. In case of the four main cast members of the movie, Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, and Daniel Dae Kim fill their rather thin roles with each own distinctive presence, and Shamier Anderson, a Canadian actor who is incidentally the older brother of Stephan James, holds his own place well among his more well-known co-performers.

In conclusion, “Stowaway” is not a total dud at all, but it is rather dissatisfying in terms of story and characters. Often becoming bored and disappointed during my viewing, my mind frequently went away to “Gravity” and many other recent space drama movies out there, and I assure you that you will not miss anything if you decide to watch any of them instead of this passable piece of work.

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