Going into this one, I had minimal expectations. The trailer intrigued me and Brad Pitt is at the top of his game. His performance here supports this notion. Despite his character’s limited emotional range, Pitt fills in the gaps with beautiful timing. He plays Roy McBride, an aloof astronaut. During his childhood Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride (played by Tommy Lee Jones), abandons his family for indefinite space travel. He ventured farther than any human had before. Yet his ship’s communication disconnected years ago. Now deep into his own NASA tenure, Roy finds himself spouse-less. We see his wife, Eve (played by Liv Tyler), drop her key off at the door. Unfortunately, however, this is about as much screen time as she gets here. To be honest: There isn’t much of a story to delve into when it comes to Ad Astra, though it is a technical achievement.
NASA exploits Roy’s relationship with his father in hopes of a return message. They send him on a classified mission which takes him from Earth up to the Moon, then to Mars, and finally onward to Neptune, where his father supposedly resides. And… that’s… basically it. There are some dramatic moments here and there. However, as a whole, in my opinion, director, producer, and co-writer James Gray punches under his weight. In retrospect, Ad Astra features gorgeous lighting techniques and cosmic stills. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Her; Interstellar; Spectre) is all he’s cracked up to be. Although I find Nolan’s Interstellar to be a much more compelling space movie, Hoytema put forth a valiant effort. If only someone of his caliber could have written this film. Then this would have been a true sight to behold. Unlike Insterstellar, this film lacks the scientific depth to skip out on stout storytelling.
Ad Astra’s pace is quite cumbersome. The plot stumbles over itself, ultimately arriving at an underwhelming climax. This script relies heavily on voice-over thoughts and Pitt’s legendary charm. Though he tries his best, Brad doesn’t have enough firepower to shroud the fact that this story is nothing but a point-A-to-point-B account. No actor does, if you ask me. Gray throws his viewers into this “near-future” world that assumes we already know what to expect. Yet when laser blasters, commercial Moon flights, and space baboons appear, everything feels out of place rather than delightfully unpredictable. None of the characters develop with any kind of potency — mostly due to each side character being completely superfluous. This whole film is basically just Brad Pitt’s thoughts narrating a simple tale of acceptance. Roy must let go of his past, and his father, to become a better man. That’s nice in general.
This story specifically, however, does little to conjure an emotional connection to the plot or its characters. Every new person that shows up is merely a faint stepping stone toward a bland, straight-forward destination. Little is left to the imagination here, which for a space movie defeats the purpose. I dunno, man. I really wanted to like this movie. It has all the makings of an enjoyable film on the surface. Pitt performs well. The shots and lighting are crisp. The score and sound design resonate deeply. It is simply that the meat and bones of this film are so skeletal that there isn’t much to write home about. There is no aspect of this film that is awful by any means. It ain’t worth your 15 bucks nonetheless. I will say, though, that a theatrical visit is ideal if you do wish to experience Ad Astra in top form.
Sitting in front of a huge screen with high-quality sound surrounding you distracts from this film’s vanilla structure. But once that illusion fades, we are left with a hum-drum, father-son distance whose apex is limper than a microwaveable fish stick. These brief action sequences could have been worse without a doubt. Yet their execution remains flat. Roy is so cool, so unfazed by it all that nothing emits a sense of dire urgency. Although most of the characters (or should I say, props) have a military background, their lifelessness didn’t help in engaging me to this story. Liv Tyler feels like a ghost. And in a way, her character is for Pitt’s. There is an emotional discrepancy between them. As a result, she only pops up here and there toward the end when Roy realizes his past mistakes. Honestly, though, Gray creates no reason to care about their relationship.
This is an ambitious affair in terms of scale, adventure, and filmmaking craft. As a whole, however, it instilled a feeling of purposelessness. Not the good kind, like The Big Lebowski (even though that film is incredibly overrated to me). No, this is the kind of purposelessness that made me wonder why I drove my ass down to the local cinema. Essentially, this film achieves nothing more than being just another well-made space movie. If you crave all things space, then go right ahead and check this one out. The sound alone should satisfy someone of that nature. For the rest of us, save this one for a Brad Pitt marathon type of night. If you’re lucky enough to have a dope home theater setup, also give Ad Astra a shot. Again, it has some sticky qualities to it. Yet story is the foundation of film, no matter the genre.