Note: This is a spoiler-free Ad Astra movie review
As we pass Labor Day and inch ever-closer to Oscar season, we’re going to start getting more movies that have awards buzz attached. Brad Pitt‘s space epic, Ad Astra, promises some of that. But does it deliver?
Ad Astra attemps to deliver a message that will land universally. The start is promising, but the movie leaves you lost in space by the end.
More Headspace Than Outerspace
The first thing you need to know about this space exploration film is that it’s not about space exploration. Not really, anyway.
Roy McBride is the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Clifford McBride is one of the most important astronauts in the history of space. The McBride family shares that bond, and not much else beyond that.
Roy’s father hasn’t stepped on earth for decades, yet somehow is omnipresent in his life. After being presumed dead, new evidence comes to light that suggests Clifford could be alive near Neptune and in need of saving. His saving may also save the existence of our solar system.
The son is tasked with finding his father, and he will stop at nothing to accomplish his mission. As we follow Roy on his mission he provides his memories, inner thoughts, and conflicts with his father despite only knowing him half his life.
The point is the film takes place in space, but really it’s about a father-son relationship. Roy faces a classic internal struggle while dealing with the trials of dealing with a colonized Moon, space-stationed Mars, and traveling to our system’s farthest planet.
The familial relationship is a little heavy-handed, but the tension is palpable and build-up leaves you on the edge of your seat until the end. A decent portion of the movie is slow, but the scenes that pick up are big and memorably entertaining after you leave the theater.
Roy McBride is played by Brad Pitt, who is having himself a two months between Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Pitt has a way of acting every role pretty much the same, but his style can somehow apply to a multitude of characters. The calm, composed demeanor once again makes its appearance, and this time comes in handy for an astronaut whose pulse never rises above 80.
McBride is perfectly suited for whatever chaos approaches on a voyage to Neptune, and Pitt is perfectly suited to play an astronaut who never loses his cool. Throw in the “I always look like I’m chewing gum” facial expressions and you’ve got a vintage, captivating performance. Outside of the big production value, Pitt shines brightest on screen.
Apart from Bitt, the cast of Ad Astra also has a lot of big-name secondary characters. In just over two hours you’ll see the likes of Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, and Ruth Negga. The common thread between them? They’re all sparsely used and at no point a focal point of the film. That distinction belongs to Pitt alone — which works because he’s a high-quality actor who can carry any scene but also leaves you wanting more from the supporting cast.
A Glimpse At The Future
Despite not simply being a space movie, one of the most interesting aspects of Ad Astra is its attempt at predicting the future of space exploration. Some future aspects are wholly believable, others not so much.
First, by the time the film takes place, we have completely colonized the moon. The take on what it will look like from writers James Gray and Ethan Gross (Gray also directs) is bleak and completely logical. The look and feel of it are and thought-provoking to say the least. Kudos to the production team for bringing it to life.
Roy’s journey takes him from the Moon to Mars on the way to Neptune, and once he leaves the moon, some logic is lost. I’m certainly no space expert, but the gravity of plot increases while the gravity on Mars decreases for some reason.
That’s only the start of the believability lines being blurred, and the most egregious instance comes at the end.
Unfortunately, the ending can be seen as a big enough flub to be a film ruiner for Ad Astra.
I get it — the movie is about a guy traveling to Neptune and stopping at Mars in between. How believable should any of it really be? But the ending of the film is so ridiculously out there that two hours of build-up misses on a satisfying payoff. It’s an ending that stands out and sticks with you. Not in a good way.
Should I Go See Ad Astra?
If you’re looking for a movie with a buzz that kicks off Oscar season, Ad Astra is a decent start.
Many parts are entertaining and/or intriguing to watch. Being a space exploration movie, the entire thing plays well on a big screen. Brad Pitt’s performance is worth catching. The ending ruins any possible payoff.
So what does that all mean? If you’re a fan of big, wide-ranging movies this is worth seeing. If you’re a fan of Brad Pitt, this is worth seeing. Otherwise, you can wait for Ad Astra to come to you instead of going to see it.
(Featured Image courtesy of EPK)