Stowaway (2021) — Hitchhiking a ride to Mars

“What are we gonna do, ask him to walk out of the airlock?”

Justin’s rating: Here’s to the unsung hero: algae!

Justin’s review: In the opening minutes of Netflix’s Stowaway, a (now) routine trip to Mars for a small three-person crew is still a delightful marvel for doctor Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and biologist David (Daniel Dae Kim). It’s not quite as special for Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), who’s been a mission commander a couple of times before. But it’s about to get a whole lot more special for all of them once they discover that a launch support engineer named Michael (Shamier Anderson) got knocked out prior to launch and is tucked away in the ceiling of the ship.

For a non-stop two-year cycler mission to Mars, this isn’t good news for anyone. Michael is devastated at being taken away from his sister, of whom he is the legal guardian, and the crew have to struggle with making room for a guy who isn’t trained and doesn’t have a purpose on the mission. I think that this right here is more than enough conflict, drama, and interest to sustain an entire film, but the filmmakers wanted to throw one more wrench into the works: The carbon dioxide scrubbers have been irreversibly damaged and there’s no way that the mission can support three people — never mind four.

Stowaway purposefully decides from the start to keep the focus on the four astronauts, going so far as to deny the audience hearing or seeing any of the mission support crew back on Earth. The entire story takes place on or around the ship as it hurtles through the cosmos. There’s multiple mentions of how people are working on this crisis back at home, but for all intents and purposes, they don’t contribute and they don’t matter.

It’s a quiet movie, not really beholden to a whole lot of developments. In fact, the whole focus is around the oxygen crisis and how to solve it — whether with technology, plants, or by ditching a crew member. Stowaway is almost too small and too quiet for what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted more insight into Marina’s head, as Toni Collette does a great job projecting a commander worried about her crew and making the hard calls, but Marina almost never opens up to us.

Rather, the other three get more screen time and focus. David is heartbroken at having to scrap his entire research project in order to build algae tanks, Michael quietly integrates himself into the crew life without really distinguishing himself much, and Zoe’s main characteristic is wanting to save lives at all costs.

The movie wants to serve up this great dilemma but then it flinches away from really facing it. There are a few passing mentions of murder and suicide, but not as much discussion as, say, The Cold Equations gave to this same subject.

I just wanted more out of Stowaway — more character development, more events, and a better conclusion.

Didja notice?

  • Lotta visor flipping in that launch
  • Tweaking a co-astronaut’s nose by bringing a rival college’s coffee mug is a good use of your travel allowance
  • How we never hear mission control
  • This movie is not for people who get sick at spinny rides

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