Published Dec 10, 2020For a movie about traveling vast distances through space, The Midnight Sky tries to take a lot of shortcuts. It's a movie of under-developed characters, flimsy plot lines, and manipulative attempts at unearned emotional payoffs.
We mostly have George Clooney to blame for this, as he both directs and stars. He plays Augustine Lofthouse, a renowned scientist living at an Arctic observatory in 2049 while suffering from a terminal illness. After a mysterious disaster wipes out most of Earth and the base is evacuated, Augustine stays in place and attempts to make contact with Aether, a spaceship returning to Earth from a reconnaissance mission to a previously undiscovered moon of Jupiter.
Aether, led by the pregnant Sully Rembshire (Felicity Jones) and partner Commander Tom Adewole (David Oyelowo), is returning to the polluted Earth with the good news that this Jovian moon, K-23, is inhabitable. There are a couple of beautiful-looking shots from the surface of K-23, but this is mostly a fairly dull space voyage full of holo-projections and baby name discussions.
We flip back and forth between the Arctic and Aether, and see as Clooney bonds with a young child named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) left behind in the evacuation while also attempting to cross the Arctic tundra to reach a communications base.
Tonally, the whole thing is a complete mess. The Midnight Sky careens between post-apocalyptic gloom, high-tech sci-fi snazziness, man-versus-nature action, cutesy parenting sequences, and sepia-toned flashbacks. One secondary character spends most of their total screen time dying a long, gruesome death that apparently we're supposed to feel bad about. Kyle Chandler is woefully under-utilized until it comes time for an impassioned third-act speech, by which point it's already too late.
It comes across as an ugly mashup of much better films: Interstellar (the mournful existentialism), Gravity (the perils of surviving deep space) and Big Daddy (the selfish bachelor learning how to love once a kid shows up), just to name a few. One key plot point is suspiciously similar to The Martian.
Any chance that any of this might seem coherent is obliterated by Alexandre Desplat's mawkish score. An action sequence has cartoonishly booming timpani drums, a cafeteria food fight has Pixar-esque glockenspiel jazz, and emotional moments are slathered in saccharine strings.
Clocking in at just under two hours, The Midnight Sky feels simultaneously over-stuffed and under-developed; even characters who get plenty of screen time, like Sully, never develop any personality to speak of, and the sluggish plot takes us across the solar system without ever actually going anywhere. And if that didn't already have you bored enough, be sure to stay tuned for the world's all-time dullest, most awkward credit sequence. (Netflix)