Review: Strong chemistry, epic VFX lift ‘The Aeronauts’


We last saw The Aeronaut stars Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them) and Felicity Jones (Rogue One, A Monster Calls) in the superb 2014 film, The Theory of Everything.

In that lush, often moving, film Redmayne and Wren shared a chemistry that was quite natural and in a word – exquisite.

With only his face to work with, Redmayne ran the gamut of emotions, pulling us into Hawking’s debilitated world.  It was marvelous.

Jones volleyed back, moving from sweet and charming to hopeless and challenged as her Jane, is tasked with increasingly difficult responsibility of caring for her ailing genius husband.

It’s nice to have them reunited in a somewhat controversial adventure, director Tom Harper’s  (Wild Rose) The Aeronauts.

This is a big, expensive adventure film, but a very intimate one at the same time.

Based in part on Richard Holmes’ 2013 book,  Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, this is the story of headstrong English meteorologist James Glaisher and his quest to try and predict the weather.

In 1862, Glaisher, along with balloon pilot Henry Coxwell, set a new world altitude record in a hot air balloon, ascending to approximately, 37,000 feet over London.

But when it comes to a feature film, who wants to spend a breezy 101 minutes in a balloon with two chaps in a whicker basket?

I’m assuming that’s why Harper gender-swapped Coxwell for fictional daredevil, widower and balloon pilot, Amelia Wren. While naming a female pilot Amelia is a bit on the nose, Felicity Jones is far prettier to look at than whomever would potentially play Coxwell.

In Harper’s defense, he did elaborate that there were some female balloonists in jolly old London in 1862. At a recent Q&A, he said he based Wren’s character on Sophie Blanchard and other female aeronauts of the age.

Take a look at the trailer below:

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The Aeronauts is a fun, bit unbalanced, film that works primarily because of the chemistry between Jones and Redmayne, along with a combination of practical and visual effects.

From its opening moments, we don’t have time to catch a breath as we’re thrown into Wren’s ongoing nightmare – losing her husband in a balloon accident, we are ready to take flight with her.  We meet Amelia later – an affluent, spirited, daredevil at the balloon launch.

After the two lift off,  they don’t have time to enjoy the breathtaking view of London as they are faced with a truly frightening thunderstorm, the balloon is rocketed upwards and out of control.

Redmayne gives a subdued and earnest performance which plays nicely off of Jones’ spirited Wren. This is her story.

As the balloon rises perilously higher and with oxygen depleting and hypothermia setting in, Amelia is forced to do the stunt of all stunts in her career. In a scene that rivals Sandra Bullock’s in Gravity, Wren has to leave the basket and climb up the side of the balloon to release the frozen valve.

If you have a fear of heights, brace yourself.

It’s all the more frightening knowing that Harper and his production team actually built a hot air balloon that went 3,000 feet in the air. A stuntwoman climbed up the side of the balloon for long and medium shots.

In addition, Jones did do her own death-defying stuntwork on a balloon, 80-feet off the ground, set on a stage.

The Aeronauts is reminiscent of old Disney adventure films such as Flight of the Navigator and even, Race to Witch Mountain. There’s an innocence to Glaisher and Wren’s adventure.

The sequences over the rooftops of London and beyond are remarkable. The action scenes will take your breath away as Redmayne and Joens go higher and higher.

Pay close attention to the sound design. If you’re in a good theater, you will feel as if you are in the basket with them.

What makes the film plummet quickly back down to the earth faster than the balloon, is Harper’s increasingly unwelcome use of flashbacks. We mostly see Glaisher attempting to find funding for his expensive flight, while Wren deals internally with the loss of her husband.

This leaves the film an odd mix of spectacular adventure and not-so-spectacular drama. Either way, this is Jones’ film.

3.5 Ball Point Pens out of 5. So says The Geek.