Review: Space Sweepers (2021)
Space Sweeper is a decent popcorn sci-fi action piece to kill some time with, but its disjointed storytelling, lack of originality, and choppy narrative hiccups prevent it from being the strong space opera it could have been. Its crisp visuals, engaging main cast, and interesting lore fortunately prevent it from crossing over the edge into being horribly frustrating, but that also creates a deeper sense of disappointment that the entire production couldn't come together as strongly as it could.
Sweepers takes place in 2092 and follows a misfit crew of scavengers/space garbage men (Guardians of the Galaxy/Planetes) who collect debris to pay off debts. Earth is dying so obviously evil Richard Armitage has created orbiting utopian communities that deepen the class divide of humanity (Elysium). Our ragtag crew stumbles upon a conspiracy with a little miracle girl and blah blah blah, nanobots, stuff happens (enter 20 other sci-fi films to fill in the gaps).
It's not a bad plot, it's just that it's a chunk of plots we've already seen. Which is fine as long as it tells the story well or offers more new and interesting elements, which unfortunately is where things come apart. There are too many cases of elements not being properly set up such as a Captain Phasma-like stormtrooper that is sort of highlighted, but then when it's her time to shine we're still like...so who's this? Or there are other story beats that offer decent set-up but no payoff. Evil Richard Armitage kind of hulks up a little and gets veiny from time to time and is the oldest human alive, but then just gets into a space ship for a final battle, even though he really didn't have to? And never gets to physically fight? So....why bother establishing the veiny stuff?
Overall it feels like chunks of the film are missing, because for the most part it follows some basic storytelling rules and it's odd that it goofs up on so many of them.
On the Armitage note, one other element that makes the entire production cringe worthy is every performance with an English speaking character. The in-universe lore establishes everyone has translators, so every character speaks their own language, which is a cool idea. Our main cast speaks Korean, you get a little Russian and Spanish here and there, but there's a lot of English and it's incredibly painful. Some of it comes off as bad ADR, while a lot of it also comes off as bad acting. There's a few cases where someone is speaking English but their accent is so thick that they put in some subtitles to help, but then they forget to keep it going so you're a little lost on what they may have said. There's another character whose accent is so thick it's tricky to get everything at times, but they don't even bother to subtitle them. It all adds up to making the production feel even more disjointed, and distracts you from the good acting of the main cast.
Our core cast brings what life there can be to the film, giving us decent emotional anchors and fun performances. The trick again though is that it feels like we're missing scenes. Main character Kim Tae-ho gets the lion's share of back story and motivation, while mechanic Tiger Park, android Bubs, and Captain Jang all have strong characterization and some arcs but don't get as much time for backstories that may help develop those arcs. Like I guess Captain Jang had a ring with an AI in it to power her super gun, or something like that? I remember them showing her ring early, and then she crammed it into a gun and it talked. I guess that's a thing. And Tiger Park was an ex-gangster who decided he liked protecting children instead? Gimme more of that background, please.
The film is chock full of space chases and action explosions, almost to a sickeningly dizzying extent. There are moments early on where it's so quick and jarring that attempting to read the subtitles while tracking the action and listening to numerous people swearing in different languages made everything kind of tiresome. It eases off a bit though and just becomes your usual blockbuster level of endless explosions towards the end.
Overall Space Sweepers is fun but it's not the most interesting entry of sci-fi films and it's ultimately a little forgettable. There's still plenty to appreciate though such as a ton of great design work and artistry put into the production, so if you go in with limited expectations for the narrative qualities you'll get some decent enjoyment out of it.