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Spaceman Review: Ziggy Sandler and the Spiders From Mars

Spaceman Review: Ziggy Sandler and the Spiders From Mars

Adam Sandler eschews his comedic chops for a deeply heartfelt exploration of space and the soul in the new Netflix sci-fi drama, Spaceman.

Following up from 2019’s acclaimed Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler returns with cosmic candour in the existential sci-fi drama, Spaceman.

Directed by Johan Renck and adapted from the Czech novel, Spaceman of Bohemia by Colby Day, Sandler portrays Jakub Proch├ízka, a lone Czech cosmonaut on a solo mission to investigate the mysterious Chopra Cloud in the depths of space. The film intertwines intergalactic exploration with introspective heartache, creating a trippy therapy session to which we’re all invited to.

Jakub’s fantastical journey into the isolation of space is marred by the knowledge that he is leaving behind a crumbling marriage to Lenka (played by Carey Mulligan). The story unfolds with Jakub going through the routines of space travel (emptying space toilets, doing space experiments and eating space food), all while keeping the mission’s corporate sponsors happy back on Earth. But when Lenka stops returning his space phone calls, Jakub begins to spiral in his solitude. With no one out there to hear him scream, Jakub launches headfirst on a course of sleep-deprived self-destruction. That is until, the arrival of a mysterious therapist in the shape of the giant space spider, Hanus (voiced by Paul Dano)… we told you it was trippy.

The film draws parallels with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Insomnia, exploring the toll of isolation and the yearning for honest connection. Flashbacks unravel the layers of Jakub’s history, with Sander delivering a quieter and more nuanced performance than his comic persona would lead you to think. While the character of Lenka remains underwritten, Mulligan is able to flesh out what little there is to help emotionally anchor the story.

Renck, known for his work on the TV series, Chernobyl, has designed a unique aesthetic of dystopian vintage space exploration, dressed up with trimmings of more modern-looking VFX. The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar plays Jakub’s ‘handler’ back on Earth and does all he can with a beige shirt and tie to really sell the post-soviet Czech atmosphere, but the lack of Czech stars starves the movie of the subtext of its origin story.

Despite being a touch meandering in places and a little disengaging at times, Spaceman’s approach to introspection and exploration of emotional depth elevate the movie above any of its drawbacks. Sandler is excellent in the role, captivating the screen with Renck’s lingering close-ups. The real stand out though is the playful tonal dynamic between Jakub and Hanus the giant spider/therapist whose relationships adds a delightful surreal levity and a unique charm.

While the core themes of Spaceman are evocative of movies like Solaris and 2001: A Space Oddysey, the underdevelopment of its – potentially very interesting – satirical dystopian world leaves the movie somewhat lacking as a truly cohesive experience. But given that the premise revolves around an astronaut being talked back from the brink of insanity by a giant space spider, you are encouraged to give the film license to play and when you do, you are greeted with a truly heartfelt and emotional tale filled with ambitious hope for humanity.

Spaceman is out on Netflix on 1 March