By Laurie Coker
Women have made their marks in history, and many wonderful films have shared their stories. In spite of these real-life stories of powerful women, Hollywood seems to feel the need to add heroines where there were none. Such is the case of Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), a plucky, daredevil ballooning aeronaut, in The Aeronauts. Wren pilots a hot air balloon for the real-life, pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) on an expedition to learn about predicting the weather. In reality, Glaisher’s co-pilot was a man. Director Tom Harper’s vision, while beautiful to watch, lacks substance.
Jones puts heart and soul into Wren, and the result is an amusing, strong, co-protagonist who brightens the film. Ironically, her character never existed, perhaps because scientists are not known for their sparkling personalities or maybe because society wants strong female leads. Redmayne and Jones have distinguishable chemistry playing at once advocates and at others antagonists. Except for the opening sequences and a few flashbacks, the pair spends the majority of the film confined to a balloon gondola or dangling on the edge of ropes or life. Sadly, even the most precarious points of danger are dull and formulaic. Worse, screenwriter Jack Thorne gives little in the way of thrill in dialogue, stunts, or storyline.
Visually the film is stunning. Its vibrant colors and beautiful imagery fill the screen and set a backdrop far more engaging and exciting than the characters or their journey. Jones’ audacity and ostentatiousness provide for some intermittent entertainment. Still, Redmayne is more like a bland window dressing than a co-star. He does more than the script allows for his character. Thorne’s efforts to give credence to Wren and Glaisher’s lackluster backstories – shown in flashbacks – do nothing to advance the story or add substance.
The Aeronauts won’t fly high in anyone’s memory in spite of its attributes. In 2014 the Academy recognized the same stars for The Theory of Everything. This time around, their pairing does not have the heat to rise past the monotony of the film’s pale plot. Wren packs a punch, and Glaisher spends most of the time frozen literally and figuratively, and the film falls flat. It earns a lukewarm C- in the grade book.