'IO' Review: New Netflix Sci-Fi Movie Tries to Be Deep, but Fails to Be Fun

Netflix might be better off sticking to mediocre popcorn movies.

Netflix scored a hit last month with Bird Box a simple thriller with plenty of star power but not much substance. The company’s latest original, IO, takes the opposite path, throwing two B-list actors into a cerebral indie film with sci-fi wrapping. Unfortunately, the results suggest that Netflix might be better off sticking to mediocre popcorn movies.

From novice director Jonathan Helpert, IO takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth suffering from an “unexpected change in atmospheric composition,” or, in the words of protagonist Sam Walden (Margaret Qualley) “our planet trying to desperately kick us out.” In other words: Climate Change.

io review
'IO'

The first chunk of the movie focuses exclusively on Sam, a lonely survivor who’s decided to stay on Earth and search for a scientific solution after most of humanity flees to Jupiter’s moon, IO. Sam explores the apocalypse by day against a beautiful backdrop of toxic sunburnt skies, conducting experiments on bees in the hopes of immunizing them against the changed atmosphere. By night, she emails with her long-distance boyfriend, an unseen engineer on IO named Elon who’s definitely supposed be a stand-in for Elon Musk.

Then, everything changes. A message from Elon reveals that the humans on IO are preparing to colonize a new planet, meaning all communication with Earth will end as the final “Exodus” ships bringing humanity off-planet prepare to launch. As if on cue, another survivor named Micah (Anthony Mackie) shows up in what I can only describe as a steampunk hot air balloon, offering to bring Sam with him to Exodus.

io netflix review
io netflix review

But as soon as Micah shows up the movie begins to drag. Sam explains her experiments and Micah shares stories about Earth before the apocalypse. They quote Shakespeare and T.S. Elliot, not necessarily because of any other deeper meaning but because it sounds deep. Their romance feels forced and obvious.

In the end, IO does offer a somewhat satisfying conclusion — and a halfway decent twist — but by then it’s too late. You won’t care what happens to Sam and Micah because, at the end of the day, they’re just not interesting characters and this isn’t an interesting world. Instead, it’s simply ticking all the boxes that should add up to a smart movie, without ever stopping to make sure it’s a story worth telling in the first place.

You’re better off just watching Bird Box again. At least that way you’ll have some fun.

IO is streaming now on Netflix, so is Bird Box.

Media via Netflix