Asteroid City: scifi & whimsypunk movie, reviewed by Mark Kermode (video format).

Yes, our man-of-many-movies Mr. Mark Kermode is bringing his film dissection chops to bear on the odd new science fiction film, Asteroid City. Watch his take above.

And what did we think of it here at SFcrowsnest? Well, in the aftermath of Asteroid City’s release, Wes Anderson has, undoubtedly, out-Andersoned himself. Picture a Wes Anderson film where the plotline got so tangled in symmetry and pastels that it couldn’t find its way back. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Asteroid City, a whimsical nesting doll of cinematic quirks.

The film introduces us to a dinky desert town which, from an aerial view, must look like a Pinterest mood board for 1950s nostalgia. Here, bright-eyed children with stargazing gadgets share the screen with sorrowful widowers whose sweaters, I must say, are as impeccably symmetric as their melancholy.

Now, pay attention because this is where it gets deliciously convoluted. The quaint town is also a play. Yes, my friends, a play within a movie about a play that’s inside a TV show, with a side serving of Broadway. This could be the Inception of Wes Anderson movies, but with a color palette so scrumptious that it could make your retinas crave cupcakes.

Jason Schwartzman plays Augie, who seems to be in a permanent competition with himself to see how many layers of Anderson-esque sorrow he can portray while keeping his jumper up to his nose. His widower’s anguish is like the haute couture of melancholy – impeccably tailored, artisanally hand-stitched, and presented with the subtle fragrance of nostalgia.

Now let’s take a detour to the sci-fi aspect. The alien who visits Asteroid City must have taken a wrong turn at Alpha Centauri and wandered into a theatrical experiment. The extraterrestrial being’s behavior alternates between interstellar wisdom and bewilderment at the humans who seem to have cornered the market on whimsy.

Meanwhile, in Monochrome New York, the intense Actors’ Studio types are in search of a deeper meaning which, in the Anderson-verse, probably lies at the bottom of a vintage teacup or within the folds of an old map.

Tom Hanks is in there too – an actor so comforting that his mere presence feels like a warm blanket over this pastel mélange. He’s the cinnamon in this over-spiced chai of a film.

And Scarlett Johansson! She seems to be channeling every old Hollywood actress while sauntering through corridors with a grace that makes it seem like the buildings themselves straighten up in her presence. Her character is the human embodiment of a jazz record – cool, classic, and just the right amount of mysterious.

But what about the plot? Well, if you’re looking for traditional narrative threads, you might as well be searching for a needle in a haystack made of artisanal typewriters and vintage compasses. Imagine, if you will, a fictional desert town with stars in its eyes, where a Junior Stargazer convention is the main event. Enter Augie, the world-weary war photographer with a brood of space enthusiasts, including Woodrow, the brainiac son. Their ride breaks down, and who comes to the rescue? Cantankerous grandpa Stanley, a fount of both car repairs and questionable parenting advice – “Hey Augie, time to spill the beans about their mom!”

As stars align, Augie crosses orbits with Midge, a once-glorious TV starlet. Both dads and kids’ hearts start doing the cha-cha while other characters swivel in like celestial objects: a gung-ho general, a starry-eyed astronomer, cowboys (yes, cowboys), and an alien? You betcha! This town’s got more flavors than a space-gelato shop!

Now, the alien doesn’t just come for the star party; it takes a souvenir meteorite and poof vanishes! What follows is a mix of Area 51 and a space opera, as the military’s trying to suppress the alien visitation. But folks in Asteroid City are made of stardust and dreams; they’re not bowing down that easily.

In Asteroid City, Wes Anderson has assembled a whimsical fortress made of quirks and charm. Each character is like an intricate Russian doll, housing layers of soulful, monochrome existentialism. By the time the curtain falls, you feel like you’ve stepped out of a very stylish time machine that took you through the landscape of a quirky brain.

The audience emerges divided – the Wes Anderson purists, swooning with ecstasy, and the plot seekers, dazed and confused, pondering the mysteries of Asteroid City like they’re gazing at the stars. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what Wes Anderson wanted all along.


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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