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IO (Netflix 2019) Review: A Sci-Fi Thrill Ride Without A Momentous Peak

By: Simson Garcia

From peak to valley, ghost town to plush wasteland, get ready for a ride that is IO (although if you're like me, I'm spoiled when it comes to sci-fi rides. I expect ups and downs every time). Let me just say that our eyes were undoubtedly feasted upon valleys, peaks and plush wastelands but IO couldn't whip it into warp drive and take you to another galaxy. I see why It wouldn't be deemed worthy of the price of admission at your local theatre but thankfully for Netflix, you can watch it on your $8.99 a month per 50 pop subscription. Of course, a handful of those are snap, crackle and pops. IO was one of those snap and crackles, but no pop. What remains is whether you'll itch to pull up that Netflix app and IO after you're through reading.

Thanks to pollution, warming/cooling or what have you, a few scientists claim Earth is no longer fit to inhabit life. Billions perish along with most organisms, except for the 100 ships that begin exodus from the dying planet. The destination for the rest of humanity in these ships is IO--Jupiter's volcanic but habitable moon. While the rest of Earth's population has voyaged, Sam Walden (Margaret Qualley) is one of few who remain and is left to survive her late father Henry Walden's (Danny Huston) work in order to continue the search for viable and adaptable life. We deserved more of Huston as we don't get enough backstory from this character. I mean c'mon there's only four total cast members!

Sam's wound up in an established enclave set in the high altitude grassy hills in the middle of nowhere. A beautiful backdrop of the horizon is displayed in a few scenes, much reminiscent of that scene where Luke Skywalker gazes out into the double sun set in Star Wars. Sam's location is one of the few pockets able to harbor oxygen and other means of liveable conditions. We then find outside of this one pocket, most of Earth is unbreathable. This is evident during Sam's few visits to a nearby town where she scavenges for supplies and continues her research for sustainable conditions. The town, like the rest of Earth, has been shrouded in poisonous ammonium vapor and, you'll need a mask with an oxygen tank to venture through it--a few scenes much akin to The Mist

Her enclave on the other hand's set up nicely to where one can breathe without a gas mask, bees can be harvested, a greenhouse is able to provide vegetation and, energy is generated through solar panels. While Henry's ultimate goal was the continued research for ways to adapt to the now unsustainable climate (one of these was through the experiment of bees), Sam struggles in carrying on Henry's pursuits. After her bee colony's destroyed by a storm, she meets Micah (Anthony Mackie) who descends down from a helium balloon. Micah heard Henry's relayed transmission frequency and sought to meet Henry. His initial plan was vengeful, toward Henry in particular, since Micah's family and most of humanity saw their demise. See, all of civilization were promised by Walden that the planet would find a way to adapt to the drastic undergoing changes, which many believed Henry and stayed, but ultimately met their fate.

Micah realizes Henry's gone and he and Sam's relationship inevitably develops. Micah persuades Sam to leave with him on the final exodus. Once they search for more helium for their hot air balloon enabling them to reach the station of the last departure, Sam has a change of heart. This is the part where I uncoil from the synopsis, end the movie and go "what!?" Firstly, I longed to see a possible scene with humans at the station Micah would soon reach. Second, I looked for more imminent danger, or more action and consequence since this is the apocalypse. We're only dealt small doses of each such as the storm. I should also mention Elon (Tom Payne)--a man already on IO--who we never get to meet as he and Sam are limited to transmitting messages back and forth. We could have been awarded with more of his backstory and IO. Instead, we're told to trust whoever this man is (it's eventually revealed from Elon that he and Sam will never get to meet as previously promised since he's to board a mission that plans to dive further into space and explore new frontiers). 

All of this could simply be budget allocation and as I mentioned earlier, I might be just a spoiled sci-fi fan boy. There's just not enough "umph" and I'm left clamoring for more. It was a little too The Road-esque but even that film had more of the "danger" and "consequence" factor. Some scenes hinted I Am Legend, but IO should have been more The Martian-like as I believe it had the potential to go that route. Ok, those expectations are too high. But I can say IO didn't have me in "survival mode," or in any potential "danger zone" like those films employed. It did what it could, but IO didn't pack a punch. 

Grade: C

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