Review by Camden Ferrell
Regardless of one’s personal opinions about him, it’s hard to deny the cultural prominence of Elon Musk in recent years. Musk, the richest person on the planet, is also the CEO of SpaceX. Return to Space, the new documentary from Oscar-winning duo Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, is an interesting but far too safe and conventional look into modern space exploration for directors of this caliber.
This film follows the collaboration between NASA and SpaceX as they work towards sending American astronauts back to space and beyond. In this documentary, we get to see the inner workings of SpaceX, including the work of its engineers, astronauts, and CEO. This is an interesting topic that is relevant to our time, and it’s a story all audiences can enjoy, not just those interested in space travel.
It’s clear early on that this movie is intent on being conventional. It plays out like a standard documentary. It aptly tells its story, but the film itself doesn’t have a whole lot of passion or personality; that burden is but on the subject. This is probably the film’s most underwhelming aspects since it comes from the directors of Free Solo, one of the best documentaries of the last decade.
The movie has a lot of great interviews from people involved in space exploration. They’re often able to give entertaining commentary or insight into the process of SpaceX and NASA while still being accessible to all audiences. There is also an abundance of great footage of these engineers and astronauts at work that is balanced adequately with the interviews and archive footage alike.
On a visual level, the movie is shot very well, and it takes full advantage of the magnitude of its subject. However, this exuberance exists solely on a superficial level, and the rest of the movie can feel rather uninspired at times. As mentioned before, this is a really solid documentary that is ultimately disappointing considering who is helming the production. Despite being over two hours long, it feels like more could have been done with this movie.
Return to Space may not be a fully comprehensive look at SpaceX and their objectives, but it’s a great starting point to learn more. It examines the history of space exploration and how it affects that field today, and it offers an optimistic promise for what’s to come in the near future for these pioneers.
Return to Space is streaming on Netflix April 7.