Saturday, May 18, 2024

“MARS EXPRESS”

THE STORYSet in the 23rd century on Mars, the plot follows the investigation on a murder case carried out by the couple formed by private investigator Aline Ruby and her android companion Carlos Rivera.

THE CAST – Léa Drucker, Mathieu Amalric, Daniel Njo Lobé, Marie Bouvet, Sébastien Chassagne & Marthe Keller

THE TEAMJérémie Périn (Director/Writer) & Laurent Sarfati (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 88 Minutes


Using animation as a medium to explore heady and dense themes in science fiction is underappreciated. Some of the more memorable and entertaining works of science fiction, like “Akira” and “Cowboy Bebop,” come to mind as seminal works that have succeeded in becoming celebrated projects that fully balance the allure and intellectual depth the medium can offer. Most certainly, Jérémie Périn, the director of “Mars Express,” would feel similarly. As someone who’s spent years working in animation, Périn was ready to make a feature. With “Mars Express,” his debut film showcases his potential for future projects, but it’s riddled with issues common among first-time filmmakers.

“Mars Express” takes place in the far future in a world where high society has grown overly reliant on subservient androids and has ushered in the planet Mars as their self-proclaimed center of humanity. Everyone else is left to get through each day, just like the protagonist of the film, Alice Ruby (voiced by Morla Gorrondona). While working a case, Ruby, a private detective alongside her robot partner Carlos Rivera (voiced by Josh Keaton), is dragged into a deeper conspiracy involving a missing student, brain farms, and a potential uprising of jailbroken androids. The entire ensemble is solid in the film, although there were times that I was left wondering how it holds up compared to the original French language it was initially made in. Usually, the sub is far superior to another language’s dub, but the cast did well enough to make it never feel like it detracts from the experience.

The world of “Mars Express” is the most realized aspect of the film due to Périn’s dedication to evolving the world these characters inhabit. The film, at times, feels like it’s not in a rush to go anywhere as you witness the varied scenery of grimy neon-infused clubs and pristine mansions of this once uninhabitable planet. It’s a cyberpunk-coded “paradise” that’s tearing apart internally and feels like it’s on the edge of teetering. All while setting a moody and occasionally synthy score that is enveloping. Audiences could spend plenty of time soaking it in but are briskly whisked along through the film’s under ninety-minute runtime. On the other hand, the characters aren’t fleshed out as the world surrounding them. The film blends science fiction with familiar elements of traditional noirs. Rudy is comprised of the typical genre cliches, as she’s a troubled investigator who drinks to suppress her issues and struggles to move on from her past trauma. Carlos, a specific variation of android, is failing to successfully attempt to reconcile with his family, who’s moved on without him. These blanketed characterizations and circumstances surrounding their burdens never get past the surface. Mostly, it’s okay, as they’re merely used to advance the plotting swiftly. The story is nothing revelatory and unnecessarily unravels by the time it reaches its conclusion. Like the characterization, some characters’ decisions, especially those leading to that final scene, feel unearned. It’s surprising how much more enjoyable it was seeing Detectives Rudy and Rivera explore the city and be bounded by digestible exposition. Seeing them investigate and hearing the inklings that make this world feel unique compared to other sci-fi universes is a highlight.

The themes explored in “Mars Express by Périn have been explored countless times in science fiction. The ever-continuous debate over the creation of synthetic life and what is truly deemed human is a concept that sometimes feels repetitive and not as engaging as the world-building or the action sequences. “Mars Express draws inspiration from the works of filmmaker Mamoru Oshii (most notably of “Ghost in the Shell fame).

Unfortunately, Périn doesn’t approach the film’s thematic nature with the same nuisance as Oshii, tackling it through a lens that doesn’t feel as critical as it should be. With how dour some story beats unfold throughout the film, it never feels like it embraces the fatalistic tone it wishes it could replicate.

What feels different compared to other animated films is the style of the animation. Since “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, many studios have been chasing that same high, either heavily influenced or cheaply replicating the striking cell-shaded style it’s known for. The animation of “Mars Express is more akin to that of the 2021 film “Flee. It feels simplistic and intentionally so. It also elicits a satisfying response when violent sequences in the film juxtapose well with how it’s animated. There’s an overall fluidity to the animation that makes it engaging, like this interesting middle phase between rotoscoping and something far less extravagant. You never get the sense of the animation’s unadorned nature detracts from the experience. “Mars Express prioritizes wanting to captivate audiences through its story. The action sequences that transpire are well-structured, but they are few and far between. This is one of the few times where adding more to the runtime would have benefited the film. The result would’ve been far better if Périn had put as much time fleshing out the story and the character’s plights as he would have the film’s setting. It doesn’t help when Périn casts himself in the shadow of evident inspiration; it feels like he’s desperately trying to attain it.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Some solid animation, fluid action sequences, and a brisk runtime make for an entertaining watch. The established world is a highlight, giving audiences a fascinating, serene hellscape that’s fascinating to watch the layers slowly be pulled back.

THE BAD - Despite the engaging world-building and digestible exposition, the one-note characters and muddled story never match its level of interest or care.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Giovanni Lago
Giovanni Lago
Devoted believer in all things cinema and television. Awards Season obsessive and aspiring filmmaker.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

98,860FollowersFollow
98,860FollowersFollow
7,305FansLike
7,305FansLike
4,490FollowersFollow
4,490FollowersFollow

Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Some solid animation, fluid action sequences, and a brisk runtime make for an entertaining watch. The established world is a highlight, giving audiences a fascinating, serene hellscape that’s fascinating to watch the layers slowly be pulled back.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Despite the engaging world-building and digestible exposition, the one-note characters and muddled story never match its level of interest or care.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"MARS EXPRESS"