Ad Astra Review

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Rating:
5 / 10

Cast:
Brad Pitt as Roy McBride
Liv Tyler as Eve McBride
Ruth Negga as Helen Lantos
Tommy Lee Jones as Clifford McBride
Donald Sutherland as Colonel Pruitt
Anne McDaniels as Shunga Hologram
John Ortiz as General Rivas
Kimberly Elise as Lorraine Deavers
Greg Bryk as Chip Garnes
Loren Dean as Donald Stanford
Halszka Kuza as Dancer
John Finn as Stroud
Kimmy Shields as Sergeant Romano
Kayla Adams as Flight Attendant
LisaGay Hamilton as Adjutent General Amelia Vogel

Directed by James Gray and Dan Bradley

Summary:
In the near future, mankind has been expanding further into the solar system. With bases on the Moon and Mars, space travel has become commonplace. Despite this, Roy McBride, son of the legendary explorer Clifford McBride, still finds himself enthralled by the wonders of space. Roy follows in his long lost father’s footsteps by serving as a blue-collar astronaut.

When repeated energy pulses hit the Earth, humanity finds itself threatened. But the threat comes from an unexpected source – Neptune. The authorities bring in Roy and explain to him that they believe his father may still be alive and causing the energy pulses from the distant planet. They ask Roy to travel to Mars and broadcast a message to his father in an attempt to talk sense into him.

Roy agrees and begins the long journey to Mars. But along the way he must face a variety of threats from his government, his fellow astronauts, and the unforgiving environment of outer space. But his biggest challenge will be confronting the legacy of his father.

Ad Astra is rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

What Worked:
If you watch the commercials for Ad Astra you would expect it to have a lot of action scenes. While there aren’t as many as those commercials would indicate, the few it does have are memorable. The opening scene is rather intense as Roy finds himself in danger on a space antenna hit by the energy blast. But more memorable is an action scene where pirates attack Roy and a convoy then a moon buggy chase ensues. Yes, you read that right. I never expected to see a car chase on the moon, but this was a cinematic first and it was impressive. A scene later in the movie involves a rescue on a disabled spacecraft that reveals a horrific surprise worthy of Alien.

The visuals in Ad Astra are also remarkable. Images from the moon to Mars to Neptune are spectacular. There are also beautiful scenes featuring unique perspectives with lens flares that would make JJ Abrams jealous. Ad Astra also has unique visions of futuristic space travel. A flight to the moon is like a commercial flight to Europe. And when you get there, it is filled with chain restaurants and tourist traps. All of this makes it an interesting entry into the science fiction genre.

What Didn’t Work:
While watching “Ad Astra, it occurred to me that the film was a combination of Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It has the elements of a character making his way through obstacles to track down a rogue leader. It also has long, surreal sequences is space. So your enjoyment of this movie will be highly dependent on what you think of those films. I must admit I’m not a big fan of either of them. I’ve tried numerous times to get into 2001: A Space Odyssey and I always found it very boring. With the exception of the few action scenes in the first half of Ad Astra, it is equally dull. I found myself repeatedly looking at my watch waiting for it to end.

Besides the apparent similarities to two previously mentioend movies, Ad Astra has similarities to other films. There are elements of Total Recall with its Mars colonies and interplanetary food courts. There are bits of Gravity with the harrowing dangers of space. There are a number of other similarities with just about every recent space related film. However, all of those films did their bits better than Ad Astra. It copies all of them but never quite successfully enough.

I love Brad Pitt in almost every one of his roles, but I found his performance as Roy McBride to be nothing special. His character is described as exceptionally calm and cool in any situation, so when chaos occasionally unfolds around him he’s rather reserved in his reactions. That calm, quiet voice in an otherwise sleepy film practically lulls you to sleep. Pitt is joined by an exceptional supporting cast but they are not used to their full potential. Liv Tyler has almost no screentime as Eve McBride. I’m a big fan of Ruth Negga but just as you start to get to know her character, Pitt moves on and she is not seen again. Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland have little time on the screen as well (and oddly enough they were both in Space Cowboys, too, thus almost making this Space Cowboys 2).

Ad Astra has an air of realism about all of its space travel, yet there are a number of elements in it that feel quite unrealistic. For example, the pirates on the moon are a fun idea yet they make no sense. The film compares the moon to the “Wild West,” but the moon isn’t exactly an environment where piracy would thrive due to the simple fact that it is so expensive and difficult to get there. On top of that, the fact that Roy McBride, a man on a mission to save the world, is transported through an area with known piracy makes no sense. Wouldn’t he have more protection? Another unrealistic scene features Roy crawling into a rocket as it is taking off. The force alone should pin him to a wall, not allow him to crawl in even if he could get in a hatch. The story also portrays his father, Clifford McBride, as being an impossible distance away and being untouchable. Yet the trip to Nepture is revealed to only be a 70-day journey. If Cliff is such a legendary figure and a major threat, why wouldn’t they take the relatively short journey to retrieve him? It just didn’t seem to add up.

The Bottom Line:
While many critics are heaping praise on Ad Astra, I found it to be dull, tedious, and derivative. Unless you’re a major fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I recommend waiting to see this one on video or TV.

Box Office

Weekend: Dec. 12, 2019, Dec. 15, 2019

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