When Netflix decided to plough the old, worn out furrow of the ‘Earth is dead and it’s our fault’ Sci-Fi film, you would have thought they would at least have tried to come up with something original, or at the very least entertaining. They have failed on both fronts – Io is the blandest, most uneventful Sci-Fi movie I’ve watched in a long time. The cast include up-and-comer Margaret Qualley as Sam, a lone research assistant desperately trying to foster life on a dying earth, and Anthony Mackie of Avengers fame as the gruff hot air balloonist come to sweep her away to the human colony orbiting Jupiter’s moon, Io. And, well, that’s about it really. The only other characters occur as voiceovers and a brief flashback, so for the first act of the film we’re meant to empathise with Sam’s long-distance fling with the hilariously named space engineer Elon, which is about as compelling as an MSN romance.
After Micah (Mackie) soars over Sam’s head in his rugged balloon (one of the few effectively serene moments) and takes refuge in her research facility, it becomes clear that she has been joined by someone with shared interests, namely staring into the distance and getting all teary eyed about the state of the poor old planet. Fittingly for a balloonist, Micah is a bountiful source of hot air, grandiosely quoting Plato in a manner which, I confess, did make me feel rather ill. This, along with Sam’s muted interest in mythology (we know this as she reads from a book titled ‘MYTHOLOGY’) shows the director’s lofty intellectual ambitions for the film, which fall depressingly short. By this point Io is starting to feel more like a dry old period drama than a relevant critique on the dangers of neglecting the planet.
“the film’s core message is the importance of human connection, something its very limited cast struggles to create”
Everything about this film is so achingly dull and conventional. It’s like live action WALL-E on sedatives, but they never get to the fun bit on the spaceship, and the characters are less relatable than animated robots. The dialogue is bare bones, delivered in an uninspired register throughout by the bored looking actors, who have little to no chemistry whatsoever. This is ironic, considering that the film’s core message is the importance of human connection, something its very limited cast struggles to create even a semblance of. Mackie plays the brooding, vodka-chugging wanderer to Qualley’s slightly gormless, wide-eyed scientist, and the inevitable romance is poorly paced and jolting, and also slightly creepy. In one scene the male lead is visibly uncomfortable and repeatedly refuses to engage in a kiss, but Sam tells him ‘we have to’ and forcibly leans in – a tad anachronistic in the MeToo era, or an intriguing inversion of the James Bond dynamic?
Any attempts to ramp up the tension fall immediately flat, or slowly peter out like a leaky old balloon. One particular ‘tense’ scene was edited so horrifically it genuinely reminded me of a sequence from The Room, however, at least Tommy Wiseau actually bothered to put some effort in. The interestingly shot ending had a tinge of ambiguity to it, which left me stroking my chin for a few seconds, but it wasn’t exactly Inception. To be frank, Io is a boring drudge of a drama that masquerades as a science fiction film, and is about as exhilarating as a Jacob’s cream cracker. Steer well clear unless you want to be lulled into a dissatisfied sleep.