In the far away near future of (possibly) next year, Mars is ready for its first long-term inhabitants. The colony is some sort of privately financed endeavor, yet still under the auspices of NASA. It's the brainchild of Nathaniel Shepard, played as a platitude-spewing egoist by Gary Oldman, whose designer spectacles and longish hair indicate a rogue authoritarianism: the style of Steve Jobs but the ambitions of Elon Musk.
Still, Nathaniel is but a man, and what man could resist a cute astronaut (Janet Montgomery) willing to sacrifice years of her life to make his dream a reality—Nathaniel's potential pressure-induced hydrocephalus (I kid you not) prohibits him from space travel—and in her speech before takeoff even embellishes his platitudes? The two exchange significant looks, and even though this is a love story, it's not their love story.
Forward to 16 years further in the future. Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is the colony's resident rebellious teenager. A classified secret, Gardner must stay on Mars because of shaky scientific speculation about the effect of Mars' lighter gravitational force on his organ development. The responsibility of raising Gardner has fallen to Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino), one of the few women in the colony. Gender seems to be the only requirement because who better to raise a baby than a childless-by-choice botanist? At least Gardner has a robot to keep him company, when he's not hacking it to research information about his mother.
When his growing curiosity about his parents makes Gardner intractable, he finally gets permission to come to Earth, where he escapes from quarantine and observation to set off on a road trip with his secret Skype friend Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a motorcycle-riding foster child whose current guardian is lout who dusts crops with a biplane in Colorado. They hotwire their way to California in search of Gardner's father.
Director Peter Chelsom (“Serendipity,” “Hector and the Search for Happiness”) is responsible for all these moving parts, and his habit of shooting the logistics that allow his characters to get from one place to another makes writer Allan Loeb's already unwieldy script into a lumbering, bloated catastrophe. As filmmakers concoct increasingly extravagant situations in which young love can bloom, they forget the one requirement of a teenage love story: the emotional flow.
Gardner's struggles with a new atmosphere and Tulsa's reaction to that are charming. Those are the moments analogous to the metaphor set up by Gardner's watching Wim Wenders' lovely Wings of Desire than any of the other details: the extensive backstory, the pseudo-science and the politics of space.