Adam Sandler's Spaceman is a spiritless Netflix sci-fi movie that drifts aimlessly among the stars

Adam Sandler's Jakub walks towards the camera in his spacesuit in Netflix's Spaceman film
Spaceman is anything but a lite version of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. (Image credit: Netflix/Larry Horricks)

Adam Sandler’s career renaissance has been one of Netflix’s biggest success stories. Ever since 2019 crime thriller Uncut Gems made people re-evaluate their opinions of the divisive comedy actor, Sandler has been on a hot streak on the world’s undisputed number one streamer.

From taut sports dramas like Hustle to provocative teen comedy You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, and family-friendly animated flick Leo to polarizing but popular comedy whodunnit Murder Mystery 2, Sandler has been a Netflix tour de force in recent years. Understandably, then, the arrival of his next feature – intimate sci-fi film Spaceman – is predicted to be his latest streaming hit.

I would've expected that to be the case, too, if one of 2024’s new Netflix movies wasn’t such a tedious watch. Despite decent performances and an intriguing premise, Spaceman is a space oddity that lacks invention and doesn’t add anything of value to a genre overpopulated by cosmically mind-bending ideas. 

Lost in space

Jakub encounters Hanus on his spaceship in Netflix sci-fi movie Spaceman

Sandler stars as Jakub, a Czech astronaut who encounters a giant, alien spider. (Image credit: Netflix)

Based on Jaroslav Kalfař’s 2017 novel Spaceman of Bohemia, Spaceman stars Sandler as Jakub Procházka, a Czech astronaut nearing the end of a six-month mission to the Chopra Cloud. The mysterious mass of ancient space dust has baffled Earth’s scientists since its unexpected appearance in the night sky four years earlier, and Jakub is the first of humanity’s space travelers to almost reach it.

But Jakub’s mission is a selfish one. Sustained by an overwhelming urge to redeem his family name, Jakub embarks on his lonely space-faring quest just months before his wife Lenka (Maestro’s Carey Mulligan) is due to give birth. Alienated by her husband’s constant trips to the stars, Lenka decides to leave Jakub – a choice that might push the increasingly mentally unhinged astronaut over the edge if he learns the truth from mission control. Desperate to ensure Jakub completes the vital task in hand, Commissioner Tuma (Chicago Hope’s Isabella Rossellini) and Jakub’s technician/handler Peter (The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar) agree not to tell Jakub. 

Spaceman lacks the grandeur and narrative complexity to be as cerebral as Christopher Nolan's Interstellar

The arrival of Hanuš (voiced by The Batman’s Paul Dano), a giant extraterrestrial arachnid stowaway on Jakub’s ship, threatens to undermine that plan and the wider mission. Not in a space horror kind of situation, mind you; instead, Sandler’s Jakub gets life advice from the inquisitive, mind-reading alien spider about his marital problems, which accidentally puts Jakub’s physical and mental health in harm’s way.

Spaceman, then, is primarily a tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery, albeit in a sci-fi setting. Thanks to Hanuš empathy-laced mental probing, Jakub is forced to confront the slow but seemingly inevitable disintegration of his marriage, which prompts him to grapple with his traumatic past and forgive himself in order to move forward.

Jakub and Lenka stand face to face in Netflix's Spaceman movie

Jakub and Lenka's marriage is on the brink. (Image credit: Netflix)

It’s an interesting narrative tool that allows viewers to explore Jakub and Lenka’s romantic history through a series of nonlinear flashbacks interspersed amid present-day events. 

Captured in the form of barrel lens-distorted memories, which give such recollections a dreamscape feel, we witness their backstory from their first meeting through to their cantankerous marriage teetering on the brink of collapse. Jakub and Lenka might be 500 million kilometers apart, but the emotional strain and turmoil are evident; Sandler and Mulligan demonstrating the anguish of two lonely people struggling with delicate precision. Indeed, there’s a real vulnerability to scenes, particularly in the movie’s later stages, that illustrate their tortured relationship, although that’s not fully dissected or elaborated on as the film progresses. 

An extremely close up shot of Hanus the alien spider in Netflix's Spaceman film

Hanuš is an initially unsettling presence. (Image credit: Netflix)

Mulligan’s performance is laced with the expected gravitas we’ve come to expect from similar roles she’s tackled. As Spaceman’s lead, however, it’s Sandler whose performance the film rests on. Pleasingly, he operates on the quieter, more nuanced end of the acting register, imbuing Jakub with the requisite paranoia and mental instability of an individual who’s spent half a year in a claustrophobic, isolated location. Like his performances in Uncut Gems, Hustle, and three other great Sandler movies on Netflix, the actor’s display here underlines he has the depth of talent and range that belie his more abrasive and/or over-the-top comedic displays of yesteryear.

Dano’s portrayal of Hanuš is similarly understated and reserved, although it’s not without a semblance of creepiness. His unsettling introduction (and his appearance throughout the entire flick) will be nightmare fuel to anyone afflicted with arachnophobia. With his unnerving arrival out of the way, though, I found Dano’s Hanuš to be an endearing and captivating character who, as Jakub’s self-installed psychotherapist, helps Spaceman’s protagonist confront his misgivings and self-sabotaging nature. As a dynamic, Sandler and Dano’s human-spider relationship is satisfying enough, but I found myself wanting more impactful melodrama with the increasingly fraught nature of their interactions whenever Hanuš innocently but non-consensually pokes around inside Jakub’s head. 

Houston, we have a problem

Kunal Nayyar's Peter sits at his space mission desk with a headset on in Netflix's Spaceman film

Kunal Nayyar is one of Spaceman's main supporting cast members who isn't utilized fully. (Image credit: Netflix)

Notable though Spaceman’s positives are, there are as many things holding it back. 

For a movie that examines metaphysical and cosmically abstract ideas, it doesn’t have the confidence to lean into the ethereal or otherworldly concepts that are all too briefly tackled. At one hour and 45 minutes, Spaceman isn’t a short movie, yet it’s only in the final, thrilling 25 minutes that Jakub, with Hanuš in tow, reaches the Chopra Cloud and – spoilers notwithstanding – explores its unimaginably large, brain-busting epicenter. 

Spaceman is a pretty weightless experience that finds itself lost in space

When Spaceman’s first trailer was released, we suggested it looked like an eerie version of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (read our best Christopher Nolan movies guide to see where that sci-fi epic ranks within the British auteur’s movie catalog). 

Unlike the mind-boggling Matthew McConaughey-starring flick, though, Spaceman lacks the grandeur and narrative complexity to be as cerebral as its genre sibling. Sure, there’s an argument to be had that Spaceman is more arthouse than its contemporary, so comparisons between the two are unfair to Sandler’s latest Netflix venture. Like Interstellar, it’s plausible that director Johan Renck and writer Colby Day trust the audience enough to interpret Spaceman’s conceptual material however they see it. Still, I’d argue that filmmakers need to give viewers something more substantial to latch onto than simply knowing that a primordial cloud of dust with interdimensional properties exists.

A close up of Adam Sandler's Jakub with his space helmet on in Netflix's Spaceman movie

Spaceman isn't a particularly entertaining or emotionally moving flick. (Image credit: Netflix)

Spaceman doesn’t do right by its primary supporting cast, either. This isn’t their story, but Rossellini’s Temu, Nayyar’s Peter, and Lena Olin’s Zdena are vital cogs in its narrative that shape the course of Jakub and Lenka’s individual and collective journeys. I’m firmly of the belief that they’re underutilized and, with an extra 10-15 minutes of screen time, more could have been done to develop these characters and their roles in molding the Procházkas’ story.

My biggest gripe, though, is that Spaceman is just dull. Apart from the poignant Jakub and Lenka-centric scenes I alluded to earlier, I was emotionally unmoved by the tale that Spaceman weaved. That’s unusual for me as, in many movies I’ve watched, I’ve strongly related to some, if not all, of a film’s cast. That simply wasn’t the case with Spaceman, whose characters failed to resonate with me. Coupled with its off-kilter pacing and paucity of truly memorable moments, Spaceman wasn’t as emotionally impactful as its premise suggested, thereby leaving me with a feeling of disappointment-laced emptiness once the credits began to roll.

My verdict

Like its protagonist, Spaceman is a pretty weightless experience that finds itself lost in space. It’s a serviceable film whose starry cast do well with what they’re given, but its meandering and slow-burning plot, timid approach to exploring weighty scientific subject matter, and on-the-nose imagery – a spider-based scene involving Lenka had me rolling my eyes due to its obvious parallel to Jakub and Hanuš – mean I haven’t spent days reflecting on Spaceman as it orbits my brain.

It’s not a dud by any means, and Netflix has pumped out less appealing and/or visually arresting films during its lifespan. As much as I’d hoped to see Spaceman complete its mission to join our best Netflix movies list, though, it doesn’t have the requisite rocket fuel to do so.

Spaceman arrives on Netflix on Friday, March 1.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

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