Ad Astra Review: Memorable Blunt Force Trauma
At their closest orbital proximity, Earth and Neptune are 2.7 billion miles apart.
Viewers of Ad Astra feel every mile of that slog during two hours and four minutes of adventure, heartbreak, and (often brutal) self-discovery.
Let me be clear: Ad Astra is a good, mind-bending, heart-rendering film complete with damn near every worthwhile science-fiction trope and convention (save one).
However, as much as I enjoyed the movie, I am not going to see it again anytime soon.
Ad Astra: More than a paranoid thriller…
20th Century Fox describes Ad Astra as “A paranoid thriller in space that follows Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) on a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.”
Well, there’s a heckuva lot more than that in young McBride’s journey.
Sure, the movie benefits greatly from prolonged gazing into the blue eyes of Mr. Pitt as Roy; as well as the many, many homages to many, many favorites of its genre: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the original Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, 2001, 2010, The Martian, Gravity, the best of Star Trek (heck, you may throw Jaws, Apocalypse Now in there, too), but — most notably — Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
However, insofar as Interstellar propels viewers into the farthest reaches of space and time, pointing the camera (and human aspiration) toward the horizon, Ad Astra pulls up a mirror and continuously (compulsively) asks the viewer to decide precisely they genuinely believe in; what exactly is most important in their world.
On the nose?
For example, in (the alternate universe?) of Ad Astra, space exploration is militarized, with the only reference to NASA (exploration) being a poster of Buzz Aldrin in the halls of — ahem — U.S. Space Command.
Another example: Landing on the moon looks an awful lot like parking in a garage and taking an escalator into a mall.
However, until the end, it lacks the finesse and technical breadth (Mr. Pitt aside, it just doesn’t look as good as its cousins) to tell its message as well as Nolan’s now-classic epic.
Moreover, the world of Ad Astra, while not facing environmental Armageddon, feels even bleaker than the dying Earth of Interstellar.
Again with the mirror, the familiar Earth of Ad Astra feels too on the nose.
Blunt Force Trauma
Other reviewers noted the many easter eggs and references, but I don’t recall the aptest comparison; that of The Thin Red Line.
Terrance Malick’s re-telling of James Jones novel gives the most brutal, truthful depiction of World War II ever filmed. However, that blunt instrument of a film delivers its message through the actions of several characters with whom the viewer can identify – not the brutality.
Unfortunately, as good as Pitt is here, Gray’s McBride is nowhere near as endearing as Mallick’s Pvt. Witt (James Caviezel); at least not for the majority of the movie. And the emotional gravitas of Ad Astra is often carried by the (would be) ghost of his wife Eve (Liv Tyler) and Mars colony administrator Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga).
That said, neither of the latter actors is in the movie enough to allow Ad Astra to achieve its aspirations.
And you notice that I haven’t even mentioned Tommy Lee Jones (Clifford McBride).
Go see Ad Astra
I have got to believe there’s a three-hour monster of a director’s cut of Ad Astra sitting somewhere at Fox Studios.
When that comes to digital, I’ll gladly sit down for another watch.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go see the film yourself. Just don’t take anyone who couldn’t say, make it through Interstellar and Blade Runner.