Mars Express is one of the most fascinating animated films I’ve ever watched. It starts out as a murder mystery noir story taking place in a future world where the Solar System is in the process of being colonized, and sapient robots live alongside humanity. However, it ends as a science fiction epic with quite a bittersweet ending for our main characters. Honestly, I can see why this film is the talk of the town in its native France.

Mars Express: Details

Mars Express poster.
As weird and disturbing as this poster implies.

Mars Express is an animated neo-noir cyberpunk science fiction film, and it’s also French. Both in its original language and in its nation of origin. Everybody on Deck is the production company behind it, with Je Suis Bien Content, EV.L Prod, Plume Finance, France 3 Cinéma, Shine Conseils, Gebeka Films, and Amopix co-producing. Gebeka Films is also handling distribution, with GKIDS licensing this film’s rights for its NA release.

Jérémie Périn is the director behind Mars Express, and is also writing for the film alongside Laurent Sarfati. Didier Creste and Gaëlle Bayssière are both co-producers. Lila Desiles is the editor, while Fred Avril and Philippe Monthaye compose the music.

Voice Cast

Mars Express features the voices of Léa Drucker (Morla Gorrondona in English dub) as Aline Ruby, Daniel Njo Lobé (Josh Keaton in English dub) as Carlos Rivera, Mathieu Amalric (Kiff VandenHeuvel in English dub) as Chris Royjacker, Marie Bouvet (Sarah Hollis in English dub) as Roberta Williams, Thomas Roditi (Billy Bob Thompson in English dub) as LEM, Sébastien Chassagne (Ben Diskin in English dub) as Inspector Simon Gordaux, Marthe Keller (Fiona Jones in English dub) as Beryl and Mrs. Viger, and Geneviève Doang (Jenapher Zheng in English dub) as Jun Chow.

When and Where to Watch

Mars Express first made its premiere at the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival in the “Cinéma de la Plage” section on May 23, 2023. It then went on to have its nationwide theatrical debut in France on November 22, 2023; grossing $1.2 million USD at the box office, both domestic and international combined, and thus falling far short of its €9 million euro (~$9.6 million USD) budget. For us in North America, GKIDS has acquired the rights to it, and will debut it in theaters on May 3, 2024.

Mars Express: Synopsis

You can already tell from this thumb alone that this is a film that’s not afraid to dive into adult subjects.

Alas, Mars Express has not had its NA theatrical debut yet. That’s still less than a month away as of this writing. Thus, you will all get the official synopsis from GKIDS instead of a spoiler-filled plot summary. You can check it out below:

In 2200, private detective Aline Ruby and her android partner Carlos Rivera are hired by a wealthy businessman to track down a notorious hacker.

On Mars, they descend deep into the underbelly of the planet’s capital city where they uncover a darker story of brain farms, corruption, and a missing girl who holds a secret about the robots that threatens to change the face of the universe.

Mars Express: The Good

Mars Express screenshot showing the titular spaceship in orbit over Mars.
It makes my heart gladden to see hard sci-fi-looking spaceships like this.

Let me put it this way: Mars Express was nominated for the Lumières Award, the Paris Film Critics Association Awards, the International Cinephile Society, and the César Awards. It only won the Paris Film Critics Association Awards on February 4, 2024; but even the nominations alone should tell you that this is a truly magnificent film.

A large part of why this film is magnificent is in its story. It starts out as a murder mystery mixed with some crime pulp fiction, all taking place in a sci-fi world. Then over the course of the film, it slowly reveals itself to be a political thriller/intrigue story, and by the end of the film, you realize that it has turned into an epic science fiction story and even space opera in some ways. It’s this kind of transition of genres and its variety that’s what I love about this story.

On top of that, the characters populating that story are just as fascinating. This especially holds true for the main characters: Aline Ruby and her business partner Carlos Rivera. Both of them feel very grounded in their personalities, even when the character themself is utterly inhuman in body. One is an alcoholic, and the other is a parent trying to get their divorced partner to allow them to see their child. You can readily relate to such issues, allowing them to be very likable characters.

Lastly, the animation of the film turns out to be surprisingly good. It has this art style to it that feels at once realistic and cartoonish. Specifically: the really good cartoons like The Zeta Project and Batman Beyond. It has that same feel to it, which is quite fitting considering that they’re all cyberpunk and neo-noir stories too.

Mars Express: The Bad

Mars Express screenshot showing Carlos and Aline riding in a car on a highway.
It looks calm at the moment, but trust me. Things are about to get pretty bad for them.

Honestly, my only complaint about Mars Express is the ending. On one hand, it’s a shockingly hopeful ending despite the events happening just before it. On the other hand, it’s still a very bittersweet ending in many ways, heavy on the bitter side. It really makes me want to write fanfiction about it exploring what happens after the ending, as well as giving a certain main character a much happier ending than what they got in the film. You’ll see what I mean when you watch this film in theaters.