There’s a great surprise within Ad Astra with how it starts off big adventure and then takes a turn for the introspective. For a big-budget sci-fi production to take such a route is refreshing. It’s not every film of this genre that tries to she light on the internal struggle of the man who shuns his emotions and learns to come to terms with himself and his past. And it does so with a stunning amount of humanity amid its grander set pieces of spacecraft, electrical storms, nukes, and moon pirates.
This shift to the cerebral in the second half pays off greatly considering the track of the first half. It’s the near future and humanity has expanded to the stars. The moon has been commercialized, Mars now has a military base and space stations are abundant. All is not well as the Earth and many space stations are under attack from waves of energy bursts coming from Neptune. Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is hired to investigate in space as they believe the cause of these waves may be from the long-lost space station of Roy’s father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones). The government considers Roy the perfect man for the job for both his unemotional state in handling tough situations and his personal connection to his father. If dear old dad is still alive and has gone crazy, Roy may be the only one who can convince him to come home.
This initial premise, coupled with ex-positional dialogue and internal monologues, may set the film up for a fairly predictable adventure. Thankfully, director James Gray always keeps the film focused on its hero and his struggle with escaping from the world. There are plenty of distractions along the way where the film certainly could’ve been led astray. One stop on his Roy’s journey is to the moon where he passes by tourist traps and encounters pirates bickering for resources, as national wars have spread to space. But this is where the brilliance of Roy’s one-track mind keeps the film focused and personal. He doesn’t take time out from his mission to spend too much time lamenting on the moon having a Subway sandwich shop or how resources are still fought over in the future. What Roy does care about comes through in a brilliant way.
Roy has placed his duty above everything. His dad was a military man and Roy aims to be the same stoic figure. He pushed away his wife and can’t stand to be around her from a fearful perspective. Roy embodies that essence of man that is afraid of everything, from human contact to emotions. To the military he serves, this is a benefit. He can handle the horror of an exploding space station like a pro and keeps his cool in any situation. His regular psychiatric evaluations show him to be calm and cool, never thinking too much about the death on that one detour his shuttle made to a different space station.
But all of this only comes from the safety of knowing that he is needed and being used to his full potential. It doesn’t take a genius to soon discover that the American government is not telling Roy the full story, both about his father and how Roy will be used in this instance. By the time Roy finally comes to the realization that he can’t just run away to space to escape the harsher aspects of reality, he’ll have to contend with a corrupt military that desires the exact opposite out of him. This leads to more thrilling action sequences, sure, but also a more personal edge that inevitable climax is approached with a surprising amount of empathy for men that have shoved everything away in the name of utilitarianism.
All of this may make Ad Astra sound too sophisticated but this moving story is dispensed via an easy to digest script that never becomes too ambiguous in its message. It’s still a great looking picture with lots of atmospheric staging and brilliant special effects. There’s rarely a moment where the off-planet bases become locations of wonderment. Everything from the colonized moon base to the cold interiors of the Mars base comes with a garish and rusty quality, always feeling cold and isolationist to match the themes. Even the moon rover chase with pirates shooting at our hero carries a certain quiet somberness to its action-packed staging.
Ad Astra is an enrapturing experience that brings humanity to a genre that can sometimes be in short supply. More than a mere combination of Interstellar and Gravity, this film better focuses on the personal plight of those that depart to the stars to run away from themselves. Despite these aspects seemingly like familiar and perhaps even cliche aspects, so much time is given to expanding on these themes that they rarely feel artificial. It’s that devotion to the internal that makes the film more notable for the journey than the resource-bickering dystopia of the moon. Few sci-fi films ever reach for such a goal and even fewer accomplish it with this much grace & glory. Are you looking forward to seeing Ad Astra? Do you think it will top Interstellar and Gravity? Let me know in the comment section below. If you liked my review, check out some of my other movie reviews.
Ad Astra is an enrapturing experience that brings humanity to a genre that can sometimes be in short supply. More than a mere combination of Interstellar and Gravity, this film better focuses on the personal plight of those that depart to the stars to run away from themselves.
- Brilliantly Moody Atmosphere
- Big and Beautiful Special Effects
- Fantastically Cerebral Script
- Voice Over Dialogue Too Base
- Expositional First Act