Kyle Patrick Alvarez Lends His Disney+ Coming-Of-Ager A Surprising Amount Of Maturity & Heart

May 12, 2023

The wonders are small but mighty enough in “Crater,” a sincere Disney+ adventure from “Stranger Things” producer Shawn Levy, featuring some of that Netflix series’ pains about coming-of-age. For all that’s knowingly familiar in this crowd-pleaser, “Crater” wins out with craftiness and a mature heart, as director Kyle Patrick Alvarez guides a young cast of rising stars through that great unknown that’s getting older.
READ MORE: ‘Crater’ Trailer: Kyle Patrick Alvarez Directs McKenna Grace & More In A New Space Colony Disney+ Adventure
“Crater” takes place on the moon, hundreds of years into the future. And in this world, Earth is old news, with moon kids barely learn about it in school. Some of their families have been on the moon for generations, while a small group of residents has come from the Earth in this lifetime, witness to the awful wars that destroyed it. But broken systems have been carried over to life on the moon, and in notable plunges for some real pain about inequality, writer John Griffin breaks any spell about this new future: this lunar colony has become a type of teal-and-orange prison. 
Now, life on the moon is about adults paying off work-year debt. Many people die before finishing it, causing their children to inherit it instead. With debt hanging over everyone, the unanimous goal is to earn passage to another green planet called Omega. But traveling to Omega is a 75-year trip, requiring one to be cryogenically frozen. And in the case of Isaiah Russell-Bailey’s Caleb, Omega will be his new foster home, after recently being orphaned by the loss of his father. 
But before Caleb gets on the spaceship and into deep sleep that separates him from his lifelong friends, he wants to see a giant crater that’s a road trip away. His father (played by Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi in emotional flashbacks) told him about the isolated spot, but not what was inside, making Caleb’s curiosity our own. So Caleb and his similar-age friends Dylan, Borney, and Marcus steal a moon rover and sneak out when the rest of their home base is on lockdown to prepare for a three-day meteor shower. The four boys have a stowaway, too: Addison (Mckenna Grace), a child from a messy divorce who used to live on Earth, but who’s an outsider on the moon. Though they initially write her off, Addison reveals their unnecessary prejudices and helps encourage the teenagers to understand each other more deeply.
“Crater” has a higher frame of mind than viewers might expect, however much it’s tethered to family film constructs. The film uses select, non-flashy visual effects to portray being on the moon, including impressive CGI reflections on the kid’s helmets. Certain passages of “Crater” treat the moon as a great outdoors, as when fivesome step out from the stolen rover to do what moon kids would do—play with oxygen tanks, the rules of gravity, and their comfort with danger. The movie achieves a commendable large scale, visually and thematically, with limited resources that never run out. Not bad for a film that also makes space for plenty of “This is awesome!” moments of plain levity.
Caleb and his friends are built from familiar stock parts, but the cast has such a complete charisma that it’s easy to forget that “Crater” is more or less about hanging out with five young actors. And audiences have seen all of these characters before. There’s tenacious, nervously energetic characters like Orson Hong’s Borney, but Hong plays him with charming animation. Meanwhile, Marcus (Thomas James Boyce III), whose main character attribute is that his heart is literally too big, gives meaningful, soulful work. It’s an in-sync ensemble, with Billy Barratt‘s buried pain as the cocky Dylan, about to lose his best friend Caleb, and Grace’s Addison, who encourages her co-riders not to lose hope when death follows after disaster. The greatest emotional ballast, however, is Russell-Bailey. As with everyone else in the group, the audience feels deeply for Caleb’s heavy inner journey, much to young actor’s credit.
Alvarez’s project in “Crater” is also deeper than one might initially expect. The film wrestles with sizable presentations of loss—whether that’s losing one’s parents or moving on from the people you’ve known for a long time and into a new, scary chapter of life. And between the group’s adventures, the kids reflect on life concepts they must face head-on, including the weight of their parents’ work debt from a labor system that keeps generations of families captive. And while having kids talk about messed-up labor laws and the inherent broken promises of society may sound like overload, it works with this movie’s tone. Alvarez and his entire crew almost favor these moments too much, as the film’s pace sometimes slackens for a road trip movie set on the moon.
But “Crater” makes even more confident emotional strides when it eventually gets to the mystery place its teenagers are so captivated by. It’s a fitting destination for a journey that naturally draws out discussions about inner pain, and how it may form the adults Caleb and friends will soon become. And with credit to Griffin’s writing and the editing by Jennifer Lilly and James W. Harrison III, the movie also concocts some third-act moments of truly worrisome danger, right on time and not holding back, challenging the dialogue’s common refrain of “Everything will be OK.”
“Crater” makes the characters, and its audience, experience the hard moments that may crystallize into such optimism. Everyone knows what a Disney+ movie like this can and can’t do with its young characters, but Alvarez and team push the limits just enough, giving “Crater” a sense of gravity that might just surprise viewers of all ages. [B]

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