Ad Astra is directed by James Gray. The film stars Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland.
In the not-so-distant future, space exploration is far more commonplace, and there are even commercial flights to the Moon. Roy McBride, an astronaut stationed on a global antenna afflicted by a massive and devastating energy surge causing problems all around the world and beyond, sets out on a secret mission to Neptune, where his own father, a space pioneer, went missing. Will his mission remain secret, and will he find his long-lost father? And what secrets and obstacles await along the way?
Ad Astra is an ambitious film with some of the best and most realistic outer space visuals, not to mention a solid performance from the always reliable Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, the crew had no idea what kind of movie they wanted to make, and the final result comes off as a scattershot, inconsistent, and slow-paced one likely to bore and confuse viewers.
I will give the movie credit for what it does well, namely the lead performance from Brad Pitt, and the realistic and convincing special effects for space travel and exploration. The movie is largely Pitt’s; everyone else plays second fiddle, and even the other “big name” stars are supporting players at best. If nothing else, the movie is fantastic to look at. It creates a realistic and scientific look into the future which feels quite convincing. I saw this movie on an IMAX screen at a press screening, and it looked fantastic.
If only other elements of the movie fared as well.
The biggest problem with this move is its inconsistency. The filmmakers didn’t know what kind of movie to make, and it shows. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a thought-provoking philosophical film similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey, or a realistic space-style film like The Martian. Hell, the film’s latter half basically devolves into "Apocalypse Now in space," only nowhere near as interesting and certainly without that film's internal struggles. The film borrows quite liberally from other better movies, but is nowhere near as good or convincing.
The two-hour run time is dragged out with many completely unnecessary and tertiary elements and “action scenes” that have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie, and many of these are unnecessarily and shockingly violent at times (and yes, characters even break out the laser guns). Most of hour one feels like filler; even an awesome and gripping opening action sequence ultimately ends up feeling like wasted celluloid. That the elements we see on screen largely come at the expense of character and plot development make it feel all the more like a wasted opportunity. Case in point: We hear the "surges" in the film have made life catastrophic on Earth, with a death toll and public chaos rising, yet this is never mentioned or explored again following this one scene. Another tip for filmmakers as well: If you’ve got Donald Sutherland in your movie, don’t relegate him to supporting status!
It takes a long time with a lot of unnecessary filler and needless action scenes before we reach our climax, and it doesn’t amount to much. There are no surprising plot twists or developments, and the ending feels all too convenient. It’s certainly not satisfying. Even the usually-reliable Tommy Lee Jones looks bored.
I won’t deny Ad Astra looks amazing, with some of the best looking outer space visuals I’ve ever seen in the film. Brad Pitt largely carries the movie and does a good enough job, but even those things can’t rise above a movie which can’t decide what it wants to be. If you’re curious about Ad Astra, wait and rent it when it hits home video formats.
Rating: Two stars out of four.
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