Shortly after arriving on Mars for the first colonization trip, an astronaut dies giving birth. Since the child went through the majority of its gestation in space, the decision is made to keep the child a secret, living on Mars. Sixteen years later, the boy – Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) – is bright and inquisitive, but longing for more human contact than the rotation of scientists who’ve been coming through to colonize Mars. After undergoing surgeries to make his bones stronger, Gardner’s allowed to come to Earth, where he searches out Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a girl he’s chatted with while on Mars, as well as the father he only has a few clues about. But as he makes his journey, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere.
Ooh. Where to begin. Aside from the cheesiness of the title, the concept for this movie had some level of potential. But the execution ranges from ridiculous to lazy. First, the settings: the film first opens in 2018, which means the bulk of it takes place around 2034. Aside from a few self-driving cars and transparent laptops, though, there’s little to indicate that this takes place in a time that’s not now. Or, in some cases, the 1980s. The premise of the story is also a bit much; there’s a lot of pseudo-scientific jargon thrown around, none of which can be taken even remotely seriously.
The worst component of the film, though, is Gardner himself. He’s supposed to be incredibly smart, but once he arrives on Earth, he’s dumbfounded by the simplest things. And I get the broad idea of why that would happen: he’s new to Earth, and while he’s smart with science, there’s a difference between that and other aspects of living. But it’s not even that. When I say “the simplest things,” I mean things like…don’t stand in the middle of a road. Horses exist. There are ways to communicate with one another that aren’t incredibly blunt. They make a point of showing him with other humans on Mars. They may be adults, and scientists to boot, but they show that they’re able to speak with him like humans. And it doesn’t help that Gardner and Tulsa have no real chemistry, which may be because Britt Robertson doesn’t read as a teenager, or that Asa Butterfield is the blandest actor Hollywood keeps trying to make work.
Watching The Space Between Us, the title feels like a threat, like the distance between the audience and the screen is a gun to the head. It’s best to put some space between yourself and the film.