Space Sweepers (2021) is a South Korean movie that recently dropped on Netflix. It’s described as a space western and is directed by Jo Sung-hee, whose most notable film to date is probably a fantasy romance called A Werewolf Boy (2012). With Space Sweepers, the setup is the year is 2092 and the Earth is screwed (isn’t it always).
There’s an ‘evil’ corporation called UTS that swear they aren’t evil, and that they just want to save humanity… that old chestnut. The trouble is, their CEO, James Sullivan (evil name), is played by Richard Armitage. The rest of the cast are South Korean and then you have a Brit that they’re facing off against. Of course he’s the bad guy. Let’s face it, in another movie Armitage’s role would’ve been played by Sean Bean (see: The Island and TV show Snowpiercer). That’s not to take anything away from Armitage though. He does a good job as a CEO that starts benevolent and quickly descends into a raging hellbeast. Sorry… I would say spoilers, but this should be obvious to most moviegoers (a single Brit = bad guy).
In terms of the ‘plot’ (air quotes because it honestly doesn’t matter that much) Space Sweepers revolves around a MacGuffin in the form of a cute little girl, Kang Kot-nim (Park Ye-rin) who everyone thinks is dangerous and/or some kind of weapon. Naturally our aforementioned evil CEO wants to get his hands on her. Unlucky for him she first crosses paths with a band of plucky space sweepers (basically space pirates) led by Captain Jang (The Handmaiden’s Kim Tae-ri). They take her in and initially try to profit from selling her, before they find their humanity and realise just how darn cute she is.
In general, this movie is a fun ride and looks great, particularly the costumes and the sets (both have a Cyberpunk 2077 and Blade Runner vibe, yet grimier). One slight criticism is that the humour felt a little stilted at times, but perhaps I’m just not that used to South Korean comedy. Once the movie got going it became pretty enjoyable – it was well paced and had some good set pieces. And you’ll recognise so many other movies woven into its fabric, references it wears proudly on its sleeve (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jupiter Ascending, Star Wars, Firefly), yet this matters not, because its heart is in the right place and it finds its own groove within this well-trodden genre.
I could see Space Sweepers getting a sequel, not least because it was entertaining and light-hearted (something we need these days), and to be honest, it felt somewhat like an extended pilot for a TV series (I felt the same with The Old Guard). This is no bad thing, but it does sometimes feel like these type of Netflix movies might have been better spread out as a limited TV series instead. Either way, I’d be happy to see a sequel. I liked the setup of a gang of space pirates sticking it to the man – and the cast all being South Korean gives me something I’ve not seen before in terms of sci-fi space opera.
I’d give Space Sweepers 3/5 with a green light for a sequel. (Or maybe just do a TV series with the same cast. That’s what I’d do).