The Korean science fiction film Space Sweepers (2021) is definitely eye-catching and interesting, but I’d be hard pressed to say I genuinely enjoyed it. Seventy years from now, the Earth is barely habitable, and the wealthy have migrated to space to live in luxurious one-percenter habitats run by the billionaire CEO of the UTS Corporation, James Sullivan (Richard Armitage). Meanwhile, the orbit of Earth is a chaotic mess of satellites, orbital habitats, and space junk, which “space sweepers” salvage to make ends meet. The crew of the Victory — hard-drinking Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), hotshot pilot Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), intense crewmember Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin) — are one such crew of space sweepers. When they edge out their competitors by harpooning a valuable wreck, they find it contains a realistic child robot named Dorothy (Park Ye-rin), currently wanted by the UTS Corporation and suspected of containing a nuclear device. The crew decides to keep Dorothy away from the authorities and make their fortune by selling her on the black market, but Dorothy is so convincingly human that they start to fall for her — and eventually learn that she is the key to a power struggle that might transform the solar system.
Space Sweepers possesses real ambition, and there’s no denying it looks terrific, its colorful, frenetic visuals leaping off the screen like live-action anime. While the whip-fast action is cartoonish and rife with unconvincing physics, it does possess impressive energy and effects, layering some solid ideas and legitimate science-fictional details in with its Star Wars approach to recreational cosmic violence. It’s diverting and fun, for the most part, and its core cast has an entertaining dynamic. Ultimately, though, Space Sweepers feels like a film trying too hard to be likable, with an artificial, blockbuster veneer that kept me an arm’s length. I suppose one could do worse than to lean into its manic, Fifth Element vibe, but more often I felt myself leaning away.