‘Crater’ Review: A Flawed but Surprisingly Heartfelt and Well-Acted Coming-of-Age Space Adventure

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Disney+ Original movies are pretty much a hit-and-miss affair. Last month, we already had a limp live-action re-imagining of J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ story titled ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ and what a snooze-fest that movie was. Fortunately, this month fares better with the arrival of ‘Crater,’ a coming-of-age movie in the vein of the ‘80s genre staples, including ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Stand by Me.’ Except the story is aimed at Gen Z and takes place in space. It was an interesting but familiar pitch, and what’s more, the movie features Mckenna Grace of ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ fame, who is one of the best teen actresses working today.

But first, the story: It’s 2257 as we follow Caleb Channing (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), a young boy who lives in a lunar mining colony. After his father’s (Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi) death, he gets one of the ‘death benefits’ that any miner from the colony who died in the line of duty will have their family member(s) transported to Omega. It was a distant planet where not everyone had the privilege to live there.

However, there’s a catch: Travelling to Omega means Caleb has to be put in a cryosleep, which will take 75 years to reach the destination. The good news is he will wake up the same age as before, but he also must leave his friends behind. The latter is why Caleb feels reluctant to go to Omega, but he has no choice due to the colony’s rule. So, in order to make the most of his remaining time with his friends on the colony, he has a plan. His father has previously wanted him to go to the crater in case anything happens to him, and to honor his death, he and his friends – Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong), and Marcus (Thomas Boyce) — need to steal a lunar rover on a last road-trip adventure together.

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And so, they set out on a journey with their new friend from Earth named Addison (Mckenna Grace) onboard. It’s all fun and game because kids will always be kids. This includes everything from playing baseball on the lunar surface to a launch-off game using the oxygen tanks as jet packs. The latter even has a brief but effective moment of peril as one of them got unlucky during the supposedly entertaining launch-off game. And here, Kyle Patrick Alvarez does a good job blending the kids-having-some-fun angle with a PG-rated, anything-can-go-wrong tension.

More than just a road-movie adventure in space, ‘Crater’ also sees Alvarez and screenwriter John Griffin of ‘The Twilight Zone’ reboot and ‘From’ series exploring the relatable themes of friendship and growing up. I can feel the sense of joy these kids are enjoying throughout their journey together as friends. But they also pour out their hearts, talking about weighty stuff related to their respective personal problems and coping with the inevitable change, as seen in Caleb’s plight.

The movie may earn a PG rating, but Alvarez manages to find a middle ground not to turn this into a strict kid/family-friendly coming-of-age adventure. After all, these kids shared the general core characteristics of Gen Z – unafraid to speak their minds, pragmatic, diverse, and progressive. This, in turn, gives the characters and the story an added emotional maturity to the movie.

Of course, it wouldn’t have worked well if not for these young casts. Isaiah Russell-Bailey delivers a sympathetic lead performance as Caleb Channing, while the rest, including Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, and Thomas Boyce, all provide solid support. Then, there’s Mckenna Grace, who continues to prove her acting prowess in her assured and sensible turn as Addison. Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi shows up in the flashbacks every now and then, albeit in a strangely jarring manner. But at least judging from his performance alone, Mescudi brings warmth and affection to his role as Caleb’s late father.

Clocking at 105 minutes, ‘Crater’ tends to be sluggish in its pacing, while those who are expecting more of ‘The Goonies-in-space’ might make you feel as if Alvarez is holding back too much on the adventure part. The special effects are nothing spectacular but adequate enough for a straight-to-streaming release.

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The final third act is where the movie surprises me the most. And without risking myself into the spoiler territory, let’s just say ‘Crater’ delves deeper into the melancholy side of the story both emotionally and spiritually. I didn’t expect this from a kid/teen-centric Disney+ Original movie. I understand it might get too scary or glum for the kids upon streaming the movie, but other than that, ‘Crater’ proves to be a better-than-expected coming-of-age adventure, even with some of the flaws aside.

‘Crater’ is currently streaming on Disney+.

SCORE: 6.5/10

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