Spaceman: Adam Sandler and an alien spider embark on a mission to Jupiter in this dull sci-fi

A Czech cosmonaut travels half a billion kilometres away from his troubled marriage and gets emotional support from a space spider in a film that feels profoundly incurious about the metaphysical possibilities of interplanetary exploration.

23 February 2024

By Jessica Kiang

Adam Sandler as Jakub in Spaceman (2024)
Sight and Sound
  • Reviewed from the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival

In 2014, while co-hosting the Golden Globes, Tina Fey made one of the finest jokes to ever have graced an awards show monologue when she described Gravity (2013) as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float off into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.” With a little adaptation – and an apology to Fey, Clooney and Gravity, who do not deserve the association – it could easily be retrofitted to Johan Renck’s dud Spaceman, the story of how Adam Sandler would rather embark on a perilous year-long solo mission to Jupiter with a possibly hallucinated alien spider than spend one moment more with his pregnant wife.

The wife, Lenka, is played by Carey Mulligan who is indeed 19 years younger than Sandler, but age-gap-related issues rank actually very low on the list of Spaceman’s transgressions. Far more egregious is just how very dull the whole thing is, with even the supposed majestic climax being less “My God, it’s full of stars” and more “My God, it’s full of CG that looks vaguely like the opening credits of 3rd Rock from the Sun [1996-2001].”

Sandler plays Jakub, a Czech cosmonaut halfway through a mission to check out an unexplained cloud of particulates that has suddenly manifested half a billion kilometres away. Despite the massive distance, he can talk to Lenka back on earth with no delay on a specially built pod device, but recently she hasn’t been picking up his calls. (In the film’s vaguely intriguing alternate universe, the space exploration superpowers seem to be Czechia and South Korea, and a manned return mission to Jupiter takes just 12 months even though the tech looks akin to that of our late 20th century.) 

Lenka is going to leave him. But her Dear John message is intercepted by the head of the Czech Space Agency, a character who is very thinly written but still interesting because she’s played by Isabella Rossellini. Out of feigned concern for Jakub’s emotional wellbeing that is really fear for the expensive, and apparently lucrative mission — Jakub has to recite sponsorship slogans while carrying out routine duties, which comprises the film’s limp attempt at corporate satire — she suppresses the message. 

But Jakub begins to suspect the truth anyway, which is around the time he meets Hanus, a giant arachnid (roughly the size of an adult chimpanzee) who has stowed away in Jakub’s body or perhaps in his fraying mind. Either way, he’s out now and damnably chatty, becoming instantly unscary when it’s revealed that he sounds like Paul Dano (he is voiced by Paul Dano). “I wish to assist you with your emotional distress” says Hanus, with an uninflected calmness so silken it makes 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL sound like Slipknot.  

Hanus, voiced by Paul Dano, Spaceman (2024)

If we never got another movie in which some gargantuan mystery was summoned out of the deep reaches of space as a pretext for a mopey guy to finally sort out his domestic woes, it would be too soon. It’s as though Renck got to the ’space baboon’ bit of James Gray’s flawed but vastly superior Ad Astra (2019), and decided to make a whole movie out of that film’s worst scene. It means he wastes a live human cast by giving way too many lines to a hairy CG beastie. Hanus, for whom we quickly arrive at the “i don’t care” stage of the is-he-real-or-imaginary? debate, entirely exists to ploddingly literalise and verbalise every one of the emotional revelations Jakub is feeling but Sandler never gets to play. Even Carey Mulligan can’t do much with a part that is just a vastly undernourished, wan version of the role she got to play to the Oscar-nominated hilt in Bradley Cooper’s Maestro (2023).

If while watching Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) (or Soderbergh’s, to get in one more George Clooney reference) you thought “dig the wife stuff, but don’t like all the awe,” this might be for you. Renck, best known for commercials, music videos and TV’s Chernobyl (2019) took on a clunky adaptation of a 2017 novel and really leant into the tediously speechified pop psychology. His film is profoundly incurious about the metaphysical possibilities of interplanetary exploration, except as they can be tamed to deliver a glib and schmaltzy explanation of marital issues that any halfway decent couple’s counsellor could have addressed during the free introductory half-hour session. Space deserves so much better than Spaceman.

 ► Spaceman is in UK cinemas now and will be available to stream on Netflix UK from 1 March.

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