You know what no ever really wanted? A young adult version of Wings of Desire. Some of you might know this story better as the 90’s junk remake that was City of Angels starring Nicolas Cage. But in case you don’t know the plot of either, they both tell a story of an angel who wishes to become human to be with a woman. Well, somehow screenwriter Allan Loeb and director Peter Chelsom decided it was time for this tale to return to the big screen—but this time just replacing angels with outerspace boys. Let me introduce you to The Space Between Us, starring Asa Butterfield and Brit Robertson, along with Gary Oldman and a slew of other “too-good-for-this-movie” talent.
For those of you who haven’t seen the onslaught of trailers for this movie for the past year (because the release date shifted multiple times), The Space Between Us tells the (unbelievable) story of Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), a man determined to make a new and thriving colony on Mars. He sends the best and brightest from NASA, including Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) to lead this venture to new possibilities for the human race. While traveling to their new home, Sarah discovers that she’s pregnant, leading Nathaniel and his team to figure out how to deal with the situation. But when Sarah dies during childbirth, Nathaniel is left with only one choice to keep the baby safe — make the entire incident a secret.
16 years later, we find that this Mars baby has grown to become Gardner Elliot (Butterfield). Feeling the guilt and loneliness of losing his mother and having no knowledge of his father, Gardner desperately craves human (
teenage) connection on his Mars home. This leads him to online chat with another misfit, Tulsa (Robertson), for whom he is falling madly in love with. The problem though is Tulsa lives on Earth, and the questions start from there. What will happen when Gardner gets his chance to travel to Earth? Will Tulsa believe him? Will Gardner get sent back to Mars? And who the heck is Gardner’s daddy? The answer you’ll have by the end of the 2-hour running time is quite simple though…who cares.
You’re also probably wondering, “What the heck does this have to do with Wings of Desire?” Well don’t worry – I didn’t even think it would remotely have any connection to the German classic either. But Loeb (who was the “genius” that wrote Collateral Beauty) has decided to smack every single possible callback to Wings within the screenplay, hitting you over the head with the “tragic” romance.
It all starts with Gardner watching Wings of Desire inside his room, and at various points referring to the fact that he “wants to fall.” In Wings/City of Angels talk, that means to “become human.” And wouldn’t you know it, to come back from outerspace, you have to “fall” into the atmosphere. Oh Mr. Loeb, you’re just so smart (
said no one ever)! And once you realize that even the cinematography is taking inspiration from the German Art House flick, it’ll leave you to “side eye” so hard, you might end up looking like Raja from RuPaul’s Drag Race by the end of it.
The worst of these painful references in Space occurs when Gardner says something about wishing he could be human (
though he is)—to which makes Tulsa then grabs the convenient sleeping bag and…you can guess where we’re headed. Now, if you’re familiar with Wings or more importantly, City of Angels, you’ll know that the big moment between the two leads happens when they finally get to sleep together. And once that “glorious” romantic moment concludes, one of the lovers is likely to end up in a less-than-fortunate situation. And if you’ve seen the trailers, you can probably guess what I’m alluding to.
Unfortunately, Space‘s cringeworthy aspects don’t stop there. From questionable acting choices from Butterfield to really inconsistent tonal shifts, along with dialogue that deserves a bad laugh track behind it, this riot of poorly written Rom-Dram-Com never stops delivering the bad. Heck, there’s even a barn that gets blown up Michael Bay style…you know, just because. But what is the most painful thing about Space can be summarized simply in this phrase: it thinks it is smarter than all of us.
Between the hammering of romantic notions that scream “I was inspired by a gif on Pinterest,” to the twist that I guessed only after 5 minutes into the movie—The Space Between Us is like that kid in class who would push up their glasses and say “Well…” after every counterpoint you’d make during a debate. This person would also likely write a lot of emotional Livejournal posts and might also own a fedora. They may think they’re a god among their peers and know everything there is to know about the human condition, yet they couldn’t be further from that knowledge. Because when you write dialogue such as (to paraphrase) “You write beautiful music, so clearly you love Earth” you obviously must be a love wizard.
Thankfully, The Space Between Us is the perfect Valentine’s Day movie. For you can turn to your partner/date/whatever and make out for a significant amount of time, look back at the screen, and realize that you can continue living—knowing that the moments of this movie you missed were of no importance to the rest of your existence. For the only “space” that you need to know about is how far away you should stay from the box office. Because another childish reimagining of Wings of Desire isn’t needed in this world—and surely is just as pointless as it was back in 1998 as it is today.