Netflix's Sci-Fi Bounty-Hunter Movie 'Space Sweepers' Rocks

The Korean space opera is like 'Cowboy Bebop' meets 'Elysium.'

netflix space sweepers
Netflix

It's been a year bereft of the traditional number of CG-heavy sci-fi action blockbusters, with big studios pulling their most expensive projects from the calendar as the pandemic continues. And, look, we can be patient, and, sure, some of us would rather wait for the chance to watch that really massive stuff, like Marvel movies and Dune, in the biggest venue possible anyway. But if you've been jonesing for spaceships and laser cannons and talking guns and robots that lasso careening space junk with harpoons in a technicolor, multilingual vision of the far future, look no further than Netflix's Korean sci-fi action movie Space Sweepers.

Tae-ho (Song Joong-Ki) is a pilot aboard the freighter Victory, along with Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), engineer Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and loudmouthed robot Bubs (Kim Hyang-gi), all of them part of an outer-space trash-collecting bounty-hunter guild known as the Space Sweepers, who capture space junk and sell it for parts. Earth is dying, and the wealthy look to Mars to house the future of humanity—an effort spurred on by the obsessive terraforming developer and UTS CEO James Sullivan (Richard Armitage). Everything orbiting Earth not under the jurisdiction of the UTS is fair game for bounty hunters. After a particularly harrowing chase, the crew finds a little girl hiding in a derelict spaceship, who just happens to be a nanobot-filled android that a group of space terrorists have fitted with a hydrogen bomb. At first the Victory crew plans to sell the "little girl" back to the terrorist group who lost her, before they realize that she's much more special than she seems.

space sweepers
Netflix

Right from its first, electrifying sequence involving a bunch of bounty hunting spaceships chasing after a careering piece of garbage, Space Sweepers is fantastic fun and spins a far-future of multicultural, multilingual human life in space that's as exhilarating as it is crushingly dystopian. In this future, citizenship in the upper classes (and the clean air and comfortable life that comes with it), hangs by a thread, and those not among the elite are barely considered more than the price of their debts. (Elysium is shaking.)

And yet, there's a joyful aspect to Space Sweepers that a movie more concerned with hammering home its dystopian message would ignore. The crew of the Victory make a charming, hilarious found family, and the twisty politics and schemes behind various terrorist and political groups are fun to follow along with. Each of the main characters is given a fully realized emotional arc, anchored by the devastating mid-movie reveal of Tae-ho's mysterious past.

And that's not even mentioning all the action set pieces that make this movie the two-plus-hour juggernaut it is. There's a sort of jagged exaggeration in many of the effects that give some of the spaceflight sequences an almost animated look—and I don't mean this in a bad way. The laws of physics are bent in ways that make every chase or fight scene look better that it would in real life. Space Sweepers imagines a grimy, rough-and-tumble future where lives are daily on the line, and yet it's one that I wouldn't mind living in. Just maybe without the possibility of child-sized robots exploding and obliterating all life on Earth.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.