Review by Sean Boelman
The Aeronauts, co-written and directed by Tom Harper (Wild Rose), is a new epic adventure film inspired by an extraordinary true story. While the acting is excellent and the visuals are frequently beautiful, Harper and Jack Thorne’s script is often too uneven for the movie to be much more than a feast for the eyes.
The film tells the story of a pilot and a scientist who take a flight in a hot air balloon in order to study the atmosphere and attempting to break the altitude record. However, the first issue with the movie is that it does not adhere to the real-life story, replacing the real-life pilot with a fictional character played by Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and giving her a forced and melodramatic backstory.
As a crowd-pleasing adventure, the film is mostly successful because Harper paces it relatively well. Ultimately, with the amount of liberties that the script takes with the true story, the movie does have an added element of unpredictability in that one never knows where the filmmakers will stretch the truth to get a reaction. Most viewers will find themselves on the edge of their seats waiting for what will come next.
However, the film seems to be much more interested in being a character-driven drama, as evidenced by the lengthy and unnecessary flashbacks explaining the background of how these characters got into this situation. Particularly when coupled with the fact that one of these storylines is completely made up, these flashbacks aren’t as compelling as the near-real-time adventure on which they have embarked.
In many ways, down to the alteration of the truth, this seems like little more than an excuse to reunite co-stars Jones and Eddie Redmayne after their acclaimed performances in The Theory of Everything. Their chemistry in this movie is as good as before, and they are undeniably enjoyable to watch together. They truly are the main reason to see this film.
Visually, Harper’s movie is pretty magnificent. It is understandable why Amazon initially hoped that this would be the studio’s first release on IMAX screens, as the scale is adequately grand to demand a big-screen viewing experience. The wide shots of the balloon flying through the sky are certainly very impressive, although the CGI does become a bit obvious at times.
That said, there are some things about the style of the film that didn’t quite click. The use of color, for example, can get to be a bit aggressive at times. On one hand, the story and pacing make it feel like this should be a tense, nail-biting thriller, but the color scheme feels more suited to a quirky comedy. These conflicting signals do become a bit troublesome at times.
Although all the elements are there for The Aeronauts to be a hit, it doesn’t ever lift off the ground. It’s worth watching for the visuals and the stars alone, but the script and Harper’s style are too inconsistent for the movie to be particularly memorable.
The Aeronauts hits Amazon Prime on December 20.