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Spaceman review: a moody sci-fi drama that comes up short

Adam Sandler wears a spacesuit in Spaceman.
“Netflix's Spaceman is a ponderous sci-fi film that doesn't give Adam Sandler or Carey Mulligan enough to do.”
  • Adam Sandler's subdued lead performance
  • Jakob Ihre's atmospheric cinematography
  • A stiflingly humorless tone
  • An overlong, clumsy climax
  • Carey Mulligan is wasted in a one-note supporting role

What does one make of a movie like Spaceman, one of the most anticipated sci-fi movies of 2024? The new sci-fi drama has everything it needs to be a memorable addition to what has so far been a lackluster year for movies. It’s Swedish director Johan Renck’s follow-up to 2019’s Chernobyl, the acclaimed HBO miniseries that is as visually well-designed as it is narratively unassailable. On top of that, it stars Adam Sandler in one of his rare dramatic roles, leading a cast of big-screen heavyweights like current Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, and Isabella Rossellini.

At the center of Spaceman, though, there is an emptiness — and not the emotionally profound kind that Hanuš, Dano’s extraterrestrial spider (more on that later) frequently mentions in his unofficial therapy sessions with Sandler’s willingly exiled cosmonaut, Jakub. In the canon of Hollywood sci-fi films, Spaceman sits squarely in the same category as contemplative dramas like Ad Astra and Solaris (both versions), but it lacks the same weight. It’s an admirably introspective film, but it inadvertently reveals itself as an underbaked character study by alluding often to a depth that doesn’t exist beneath its story.

Adam Sandler looks up at an extraterrestrial spider in Spaceman.

Based on Jaroslav Kalfař’s 2017 novel, Spaceman of Bohemia, the new Netflix original follows Sandler’s Jakub, a Czech astronaut, as he embarks on a yearlong, solo mission to investigate a strange cloud of cosmic, purple dust that lies beyond Jupiter. While alone on his ship, he tries in vain to contact his pregnant wife, Lenka (Mulligan), who — unbeknownst to him — has decided to end their marriage. As his Earth-based superiors, led by a technician named Peter (Kunal Nayyar) and a high-level executive known only as Commissioner Tuma (Rossellini), try to keep Lenka’s decision from reaching him, Jakub finds himself joined on his journey by Dano’s Hanuš, an alien spider from the beginning of time.

Hanuš explains that he was drawn to Jakub by the sounds of his ship and has resolved to help the cosmonaut come to terms with his loneliness. His attempts to do so are met with constant resistance from Jakub, whose childhood memories growing up in the pre and post-Velvet Revolution era of the late ’80s and early ’90s Czechoslovakia, as well as his many moments of squandered connection with Lenka, have shaped him into an unpleasant, unfriendly man. However, the closer he and Hanuš drift to the cosmic cloud Jakub was originally tasked with investigating, the more compelled he feels to reconnect to the life he’s dangerously close to losing on Earth.

Hanuš and Jakub’s conversations are the spine of Colby Day’s Spaceman screenplay and the only things that come close to giving it a clear structure. The film is largely plotless. It fills its minutes by bouncing from moments on Jakub’s ship to distorted memories from his past and a few present-day scenes in which Mulligan’s Lenka contemplates the state of their marriage. While its shapelessness makes it feel a bit meandering at times, Spaceman mercifully doesn’t run long enough for its repetitive rhythms to grow too tiresome. That’s partly due to the meditative style Renck brings to the film, which involves patient camera takes that drift around its characters as they internally spiral and reflect on the disappointing totality of their lives up to the present moment.

Carey Mulligan stands near a door in Spaceman.

As visually mesmerizing as it often is, Spaceman can’t escape the shortcomings of its script and story. The film uses its space setting to underline the emotional distance between Mulligan’s Lenka and Sandler’s Jakub, but their Earth-set romance is never developed enough to truly ground Spaceman. Neither Lenka nor Jakub is explored much beyond their relationship, thus rendering both as one-note figures without any identifiable personalities. Through Dano’s Hanuš, the film finds endless ways to discuss Jakub’s emotional hangups, but it wastes the little relatability of his story by prioritizing its many grand messages about the importance of connection in a vast, mysterious universe over the development of his character.

In front of the camera, Sandler succeeds at bringing the same deeply human gravitas to his performance as Jakub that he has displayed in previous career highlights like Punch-Drunk Love, The Meyerowitz Stories, and Hustle. Both he and Mulligan initially feel miscast as a pair of Czech lovers, but their shared star power forces you to look past that detail. The two actors make watching Spaceman easier than it should be, in fact, given how little they’re allowed to do throughout the film. Dano, meanwhile, turns in an empathic, subtly alien vocal performance as Hanuš, who similarly isn’t depicted so much as a living, breathing character as he is solely a vessel for Spaceman‘s greater thematic ideas.

Adam Sandler sits inside a spaceship in Spaceman.
Jon Pack / Netflix

Its cast’s contributions ultimately aren’t enough to make Spaceman stand out. The film seems content to coast along for much of its runtime solely on the strength of its stars and the few insightful interactions that litter its first two acts, all of which come before it completely spins loose in a climax that is as befuddling as it is tonally inconsistent. It may masquerade as a relationship drama about a marriage that is on the brink of falling apart, but Spaceman never gives viewers enough to latch onto — or to prevent it from floating hopelessly in place for 107 minutes.

Spaceman is streaming now on Netflix.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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