REVIEW: Netflix Original, ‘IO,’ is Science Fiction Propelled by Performances

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IO

IO was one of the first Netflix Original films released in 2019. Starring Margaret Qualley and Anthony Mackie in the lead roles, we follow a young scientist living alone on a now hostile Earth years after the majority of the population evacuated to a work station floating above Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io.

The opening of the film is brilliant, narrated by our main character, we get the set up for the film. It’s clear early on that this post-apocalyptic world is one of our own making and Earth was simply trying to defend itself, to adapt to us.

This type of thinking puts us into our main character’s mind.  The narration continues, this time with a focus on Sam (Margaret Qualley) and her suit, speaking to herself to take research notes. Here we learn more about the climate, the state of things, and we quickly learn the rules of the world. The exposition is overt, but since it is through science, it doesn’t come off as heavy-handed.

In fact, through the interstellar communication between her and Elon (Tom Payne), her partner hovering above Io, we quickly learn that she doesn’t see the world as dying but, like her father, sees it as evolving. This communication allows us to see her motives and better understand her struggle with survival or keeping her father’s dream alive.

She runs a greenhouse, makes her own energy, and collects test samples while also trying to build an immunity to the changing atmosphere. However, as she is struggling to survive on earth, the people in the stars are thriving and expanding their homes to neighboring intergalactic bodies. The station had been sending down Exodus capsules, to save the remaining humans, but with the exploration expanding, the last capsules will mark a closure on Earth and an acceptance of its death.

But when it seems bleakest, a shuttle attached to a balloon drops near her enclave. Micah (Anthony Mackie) appears and he’s ready to seemingly take her father to the last round of Exodus. As the film continues we go an emotional journey about those who chose to stay, the choices they had to make, and the journey they have in front of them.

Qualley delivers an amazing performance. As the only character on screen for the majority for the majority of the film, she is able to make you feel what she’s feeling in an authentic way. In addition to that, any and all exposition given through her research notes, letters, and videotapes is well executed. She is incredibly smart, strong, and yet very vulnerable. Carrying a film is no small task and her performance propels it forward. You are invested in the story because of her, not because of what’s around her.

That being said, as Micah, Mackie also delivers a heartfelt performance. He is a man who would have been a teacher if things hadn’t gone bad, a man who survived any way he could, a man who was lied too, a man who is hopeful. Mackie executes every piece of the character. In fact, this role in science fiction has me excited to see him play Takeshi Kovacs in the next season of Altered Carbon.

Overall, sadly, the world building and twists in the story are lacking depth. While I want to see the story conclude, I don’t care about the world. I only care about Sam. There isn’t much more I need to learn or want to see, and while the ending makes the romance mandatory, it’s awkward, forced, and sadly brings the movie down.

The reason the romance throws everything off is because the build-up to it, although it is small, is nothing but awkward stairs and revelations that Sam is newly single because her space exploring partner Elon has chosen further exploration over her. Then there is Micah’s wife; since he showed up alone you know that she’s dead. Sam finds her picture in his pack while she’s rummaging through his things. But when you learn that she died because Micah hid rations from her, it’s a heavy blow that is later resolved by him and Sam having sex before they try to make it to the last Exodus transport.

It isn’t romantic and with the exception of the end mirroring Sam’s bees, it’s not necessary and throws a large wrench in what is actually a good movie. In fact, outside of this romance, each performance is stellar in their own rights. But with such genuine performances, it makes their romance stick out like a sore thumb.

Of the science fiction movies that Netflix has released, IO isn’t the worst but with a stale middle, it’s hard to give it high marks. If you’re looking for something to put on in the background, this is a good pick, but no need to make a night out of it.

IO is streaming now on Netflix.


IO
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Of the science fiction movies that Netflix has released, IO isn’t the worst but with a stale middle, it’s hard to give it high marks. If you’re looking for something to put on in the background, this is a good pick, but no need to make a night out of it.