Spoilers will sneak onboard.
Three astronauts leave Earth on a three-year mission to Mars. After their launch, they rendezvous with an orbiting section and start their journey only to discover that they’ve inadvertently brought someone else with them. I am giving you the plot right here because if you were thinking about watching this film, I must warn you there are spoilers ahead. If this is the first time you’re reading a review of mine, this usually means that I was disappointed with the film overall. You might have a different experience, so this is your last warning before launch.
Stowaway (2021) was directed by Joe Penna who co-wrote it with Ryan Morrison. A three-person crew formed by medical officer Dr. Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) take off from Earth in a space shuttle that will connect to an awaiting orbiting section to form a spaceship capable of generating a modicum of artificial gravity by rotation. As they begin their three-year mission, Marina finds blood dripping from inside a panel. As she opens it, the unconscious body of launch support engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) appears.
Zoe proceeds to take care of Michael who has a wound in his ribs. Marina herself has hurt her arm and is unable to do a lot of work she’s trained to do. However, there are even more critical problems. The cavity where Michael got trapped houses a device that scrubs carbon dioxide from the air and now they must find a way to purify the air or use up their limited reserve of emergency oxygen. A moral and ethical dilemma soon begins when find they realize not all of them can survive. Up until here, the film was bringing a lot to the table. Heavy plot spoilers follow, turn back now.
There’s a lot to unpack here. There’s a power dynamic at play between the three astronauts, experts in each of their fields and selected for this mission and Michael, whose sole presence endangers the mission through no fault of his own. He is much a victim of the incident and even more so. There’s a bunch of forced angles that put Michael in this situation starting with the obvious two questions: a) why didn’t anybody notice he was missing, and b) how did he end up trapped inside a panel that locks from the outside. There is a mere detail during takeoff about how their launch seems to require an extra fuel boost.
Here’s my take. The movie obviously doesn’t necessarily want to explain the coincidences that trap Michael in the ship. Fine, regardless of the circumstances, the movie wants the premise as is. But once the situation is unavoidable it also seems to detach Michael from the solutions. I found more emphasis in absolving Zoe from wrongdoing (David assures Michael that Zoe fought for him and Michael in turn assures Zoe he knows she did right). I am not condemning Zoe, nor I am condemning David (at least he tells Michael the truth), nor anybody else. But I feel the movie leaves Michael out of his own story arc. He doesn’t get a say on his own fate.
Performance wise, I have no complaints. Science wise it also seems to play with ideas that sound feasible. But despite the great cast, I feel the story is always geared towards Zoe as the protagonist when it feels like the central character should be either Michael as the proverbial stowaway or Marina as the mission commander. It soon becomes obvious the idea is to make Zoe the heroine. I don’t have anything against her character but the core character of the story is Michael. The fact that he’s just there to be saved doesn’t feel right.
The pacing certainly stretches out the length. It’s a slow burn sci-fi film so the thrills come via the painfully slow walks outside. There are some choices made to seal out any chances at a fully happy ending through frustrating mishaps. The focus of the main plot is one character unable to participate in their own agenda. The outcome where the protagonist gets their heroic moment ends up feeling forced. It’s like the story was always written with that ending first. If you just guessed what the ending is, my apologies. If you guessed it while I was describing the plot, my respects.
Not recommended unless you’re willing to put up with a lot of frustration just to grab at the few things it does right. There’s a lot of great things it does, there’s a great cast, but the story is unbalanced in tone and forced in outcome. There are missed opportunities, specially its core moral dilemma that I feel never gets to fully develop. It’s such a shame because there are genuine good ideas here. I feel the movie pushes forth the idea of everything else being hopeless just so one basic act of heroism must shine but by the time it happens, any interest has faded away.
That will do for now.