It is 1862 and scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) has theories that he presents to the Academia regarding weather, but no one will take him seriously given that he has no imperial evidence. Meanwhile, hot air balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) has somewhat grounded herself given a tragedy that occurred during a recent flight where in order to save themselves the man who sailed with her, who was also something of a love interest, had to make the ultimate sacrifice in order for Amelia to safely land her balloon on the ground. After being rejected by the scientific community James approaches Amelia in the hopes that she can take him high enough to where he can get the necessary readings to prove his theories. She takes him up in their balloon and as they make their way to the upper atmosphere at roughly 8,000 feet, they are met with challenges and dangers that threaten their lives, but James is determined to gather the scientific evidence he needs, even if the cost is his own life.
Released by Amazon Pictures, the craft that went into making this movie is incredible. While there are moments that are unquestionably done in a studio, there are plenty of scenes that are in the air at those very heights the movie depicts. Even the scenes that are studio fabrications are still as thrilling as the movie’s daring duo find themselves within minutes after launch in a terrifying storm that was leaving me breathless. Other scenes are equally intense, but the quality of the film making at no time brought me out of the movie-watching experience. What is unusual about this film is its narrative. This is a somewhat non-linear story that takes the viewer into a variety of flashbacks, some involving James and others about Amelia. Each of these serves as background exposition showing how they both got to this present moment, and yet each one was somewhat jarring. It was as if the purpose was to create moments where there would be a break in the action. Unfortunately, all it did was disrupt the flow of the story and lose me in the portion of the drama involving the duo’s balloon experience. Some people might enjoy this particular method of storytelling, but it was something that I did not care for and could not see in it any value.
The cast for this movie is respectable, especially with its two stars in Jones and Redmayne. However, despite the obsessed manner in which James seeks his scientific evidence tends to be a driving point, at no time does this feel like a character-driven movie. Instead, it feels more like action/reaction with plenty of yelling and more than a fair share of stunt work. Jones does get to show some subtlety in acting as Amelia is forced to face her fears when it appears that history is repeating itself during a violent storm, but any real character development plays second to the action and visuals of this movie. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, but if anyone is looking to get an in-depth look as to what motivates a scientist in the pursuit of knowledge, The Aeronauts does not provide that. However, it does show what lengths a scientist is willing to go through even at the cost of human life. While this is interesting to see, the story does not analyze the situation in an attempt to understand the reasoning for such a move. Instead, we are left to see James becoming so singularly focused that he no longer cares about his life or possibly even the life of Amelia.
The Aeronauts is loosely inspired by actual events that took place in 1862, where James Glaisher did go up in a hot air balloon with Henry Coxwell. Amelia Wren is a fictional character, which is a somewhat controversial point in that there are plenty of legitimate female scientists of that time, but the filmmakers decided to create a female character to work opposite James. As for the movie itself, it was entertaining enough with plenty of exciting action, but there was not enough there to make it re-watchable. It was visually stunning and the story was interesting, but the lack of strong characters and story narrative turned The Aeronauts from a movie that should have soared into merely a lead balloon.
For merely floating off the ground The Aeronauts receives 3 out of 5 balloons.
The Aeronauts will be in theaters on Dec. 6, and on Amazon Prime on Dec. 20, 2019.