The future of space does not just belong to big Hollywood studios. In case you haven’t already figured it out, anything that Hollywood can do, the Korean film industry can do too – and sometimes better. Dubbed as the popular Asian film industry’s answer to Star Wars, Space Sweepers is Netflix’s new sci-fi film from South Korean director Jo Sung-Hee. I had pretty high expectations for the film given that comparison along with the excellent trailer released for the movie. Does it live up to my lofty hopes though? Well, mostly. Provided you can put up with some cheaper visual effects and campy humour.

Space Sweepers is set in the year 2092. The human race hasn’t quite been able to successfully combat pollution and climate change on Earth and as a result, humanity is now looking to greener pastures (quite literally) by living on purpose-built massive space stations with environments all of their own. The only problem is that this future is only available to the few rich people, with the majority of Earth’s population left to eke out a slow death. That leaves the scramble for resources among these destitute pretty high. One job some of these desperate folk have turned to is clearing up all the leftover space wreckage and waste (C’mon, Elon Musk! Clean up after yourself!) to prevent them from damaging these elite space colonies.

This is where we meet our rag-tag team of heroes, as they take on this dangerous job, constantly looking for the next big piece of space debris while battling personal demons and trying to eventually get enough money to live the lives they want. During one of these missions though, they stumble upon some precious cargo that effects the fate of the world, which puts their lives on a completely different path than they ever imagined.

Space Sweeper is a simple story, but one that works because of the incredible depth of its characters. At first, the main characters all appear quite cliched and generic, but the more you travel through this journey with them, the more you get to realise how deeply complex they are and fall in love with them because of it. The best comparison I can provide is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in how the narrative unfolds through all the action and you are left with characters that you deeply care about. There are a lot of similarities in the humour too, though many of this film’s laughs are a little bit too campy for my taste.

As I mentioned already, the production values on offer here don’t quite live up to those shiny big-budget Hollywood visuals, but they are more than capable enough to still immerse you into the world. And Space Sweepers does a good job in providing you with action sequences that remain pulsating regardless. The joy in a film like this though is really in the deeper details of the story and this is where the film shines. There is so much of this story to like, from the way each character develops to the deeper societal topics at play which resonate with the world we live in today. This is a movie that features action as bombastic and ridiculous as a Michael Bay film, but with the brains to back it up.

The core cast of Song Joong-Ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu, Yoo Hae-jin, and Park Ye-rin also play their parts well. You’re not going to find masterful performances here, but if you can get past some of the campy parts, they bring the required depth to their characters. And whenever you fall in love with a character, you know the actor has nailed their job. Same can be said for the director who keeps things fun and light-hearted but ensures the story stays firmly focused on its set of heroes and balances the action, comedy, and drama well together. If any weakness can be ascribed to Space Sweepers’ characters, it’s something which is, unfortunately, commonplace for the genre with the primary villain played by Richard Armitage not being particularly memorable. This is largely down to the script rather than anything to do with Armitage’s performance though.

And yes, that is Richard Armitage, star of The Hobbit. Which leads to another aspect I really enjoyed about this film, and which you don’t get from many similar Hollywood blockbusters: Just how international it is. Although the majority of the leads are South Korean, and that’s the film’s primary language, Space Sweepers features characters from all over the world, speaking their own languages, including French, Spanish, Russian and the obvious English. At least those are the ones I could identify. How they all can speak and understand each other is built into the narrative, but it was nice to see the movie try and portray the international nature of this future human civilisation that helps you get even more invested into it all.

Perhaps that is where the “realism” ends though because not only in this film true to its sci-fi roots in featuring big bold outrageous futuristic ideas, it also defies the laws of physics and believability several times in its world-saving endeavours. Not all of these moments pay off and you are left shaking your head at the screen at times, but if you embrace Space this as a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, you can enjoy these moments of pure escapism.

At the end of the day, a film like Space Sweepers all about having fun and it certainly provides that handily. I can easily see people giving up on the film at the start as it might come across like a cheap imitation, but the film very quickly shows it can battle with the big boys and will leave you enjoying its story beats, lovable characters, and wild action sequences. It’s an infectious recipe for a movie that is certainly worth watching.

So no, Space Sweepers might not be the next Star Wars, but it is a highly enjoyable sci-fi film that you will likely fall in love with and wish you could see more of.

Last Updated: February 12, 2021

Space Sweepers
It may be rough around the edges in a few places, but Space Sweepers offers everything you want to see in an ambitious sci-fi epic: high stakes, thought-provoking setting, great action, big laughs, and lovable characters.
8.0
64/ 100

8 Comments

  1. Daniel Hallinan

    February 12, 2021 at 05:34

    I’m actually a bit surprised by this, since I struggled to enjoy the film myself. The perpetual feeling I had while watching it was, “man I can tell that the concept work for this film is wonderful, pity the execution didn’t do it justice”. A lot of the execution felt flawed, awkward, and undeveloped, with weird leaps in logic. Despite running at just over two hours, it felt like the film was forced to drop a lot of contextual stuff that would have made everything flow better.

    The characters were nice, but seemed to rely so much on the initial cliche that, by the time their characters had development, it felt awkward and too sudden – and a lot of it felt shoe-horned in for the sake of dramatic reveal. The sole exception is the main protagonist, and only because the entire film touched and evolved the nature of his conflict.

    The action was fun, but unfortunately fell into that area where it felt weightless (and I’m not quite sure low budget is to blame here – I’ve seen the same problem in some giga-budget films).

    Antagonist motivations were also weirdly under developed. I know why the antagonist was doing what he was doing, but the film’s attempt to contextualize this felt too little and too over the top, not to mention throwing in evil vein stuff that’s never explained beyond the fact that “he’s evil Elon Musk so he’s got evil anger veins”.

    I do agree that I really enjoyed the variety of cast members, the mix of languages and nationalities was wonderful and representative of a global community crammed into orbital living situations! And again, I find a lot of the concepts interesting, with the potential to do something that’s super engaging. I had fun with most of the film, but by the end I had largely checked out. It’s never a good sign when I get up to make tea as the film’s final moments are running unpaused.

    Reply

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      February 12, 2021 at 05:48

      I feel the same way you do. I struggled watching this, ended up only watching the first hour on Friday night because I got bored and sleepy. Came back the next day to finish it and was still bored for most of the second hour. It seems like all the cool stuff only came through in the last half an hour or so, and by that time I wasn’t particularly invested.

      And generic CEO villain was plain bad.

      Reply

    • HvR

      February 12, 2021 at 05:58

      Pretty much spot on. Especially your spoiler part was bugging me, think that all may have tied in to Dorothy somehow but it was cut for some reason leaving very weird out of place scenes.

      Reply

      • Original Heretic

        February 18, 2021 at 02:14

        I personally figured that he had that “effect” due to his longevity. They mention when you first meet him how old he is.

        Reply

  2. HvR

    February 12, 2021 at 05:47

    “C’mon, Elon Musk! Clean up after yourself!” know you are trying to be tongue-cheek-witty but to anybody who follows space launches you coming across as an ignorant dumbass.

    Reply

  3. Mandalorian Jim

    February 12, 2021 at 06:13

    I thought it was a fairly boring movie (and a bit of a disappointment), but on the plus side, it shows that South Korea could become a major player in sci-fi. I want to see more from this production house and the director.

    I can’t fault the production values, it’s just the story… They can definitely create some pretty impressive stuff, but they need to maybe rethink their writing. It doesn’t necessarily need to appeal to a western audience, but it needs to make sense. Space Sweepers is just too all over the place.

    Reply

  4. Original Heretic

    February 18, 2021 at 02:16

    Fun movie. A few pacing issues, along with all the other stuff mentioned in the article and the comments below.
    And the physics REALLY bothered me, especially after just watching The Expanse. I mean, when you’re gunning it that fast in space, you’re GONNA pull some hectic G’s.

    Reply

  5. lololo

    March 7, 2021 at 12:23

    i liked the movie a lot but… 1:58:26 a part of the spaceship just falls on someone outside of the space ship… theres no gravity on space, shes there thanks to magnetic boots so it just doesn’t make any sense, if a part of a spaceship breaks in space it just floats away ??‍♂️.

    but yeah i liked the movie a lot.

    Reply

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