Review by John Dugan
Despite a name that would suggest a larger than life story, Space Sweepers (Sung-hee, 2021) remains a film strongly centred around the humanity found in its story and the emotional grounding of its characters. The main cast consists of pilot Tae-Ho (Song Joong-ki), Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), engineer Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-Jin). The four shipmates are challenged emotionally and morally as they discover a young girl, Kot-nim (Park Ye-rin), aboard the vessel they have collected for scavenging. As they are brought into world-altering events, Space Sweepers follows the crew’s creation of the classic ‘found family’ trope.
One of the films weakest points was certainly its antagonist, as there were many moments throughout the film during which I felt that he lacked proper characterisation. Besides a devastatingly tragic backstory and a eugenicist-level understanding of morality, the CEO of the menacing “UTS corporation” James Sullivan (Richard Armitage) was only loosely explored. Furthermore, parts of his backstory intertwined with many of the main characters’, only causing me further frustration at the lack of exploration of these past events. While each of the main characters are decently fleshed out, their backstories attempt to connect them each to the overarching plot of the film in some way. This somewhat works against the film, as it breaks immersion and leaves questions as to how these characters managed to meet at all.
The action within the film is balanced well, dynamic and easy to follow. It also allows for breathing room between moments of emotional development and character exploration. I found myself in many scenes genuinely laughing or connecting with the characters in a way I was surprised by. One of the main characters, the robot Bubs, is actually shown to have a desire to transition, as she is referred to using masculine pronouns throughout the film, but then expresses a desire for a female presenting upgrade. While it is questionable that this character, as what appears to be an attempt for transgender representation, was a robot rather than a human, in spite of this the scene between Bubs and Kot-nim when this is revealed is a very tender and endearing moment.
Frankly, because of the ‘Hollywood’ quality of the movie- with its reliance on special effects and a rather archetypal villain- Space Sweepers initially failed to catch my interest, but I found this redeemed within these emotionally engaging moments, even if at points they felt close to pandering.