An astronaut embarks on a deep space mission to find out what
happened to his father's mission that is now threatening the universe.
Ad Astra (2019)
Directed by James Gray
Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross
Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga,
Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Loren Dean, Donnie Keshawarz
Oscar Nominations - Best Sound Mixing
I’ve always really enjoyed a good science fiction film. They tend to be a fun way to see how we think the future may look while also exploring some weighty subject matter. Thought-provoking material like man’s tendency to play God and, with the growth of technology, the loss of humanity. We’ve even gotten great genre mashups with it like horror, action, and even comedy. But, sometimes, science fiction can fail miserably. They become too convoluted or weighed down by their own ambitions. The blending of genres ends up not working out at all. Or, they rely so much on technical prowess, they seem to forget to tell a compelling and interesting story. Which brings me to Ad Astra. A movie which seems to do exactly that.
So, the technical aspect. Since this is the only thing this film cares about apparently. To give credit where credits due, Ad Astra is a beautiful film to look at and even listen to. The cinematography, score, production design, etc. are all top notch. On a technical level, this is one of the most impressive films I’ve seen. But, that’s the problem. This is all the film has going for it. The other aspect, the storytelling part, is very lacking. It’s like when you use to go to the video store and rent the crappy horror movie because the cover art was cool. Badass cover, still terrible movie. The story involves an astronaut having to journey to deep space to look for his dad and save the world from total annihilation. Sounds exciting right? Well, I spent much of my viewing experience looking at the runtime. Waiting for this to end. And what’s even worse, to me at least, is the complete waste of talented actors like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Both are seasoned, great actors who are clearly trying here. But at no point was I invested in either’s plight. But, hey, who cares when everything else around them is nice and shiny? It’s very clear why this came and went.
Ad Astra had so much potential. Everything on a technical level is beyond amazing and the actors are clearly trying. But, the story meanders and the few action moments there are, are dull. This is a hollow film which clearly favored one aspect of its outcome. This is a science fiction film I won’t be remembering for years to come.
Ad Astra is a visually stunning film, but it has a lot of story and character problems that are hard to ignore. It has elements of a lot of popular sci-fi dramas, notably 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, Solaris, and The Martian, but it feels more like an amalgamation of these films, rather than a tribute. There are so many fleeting moments that feel like the set-up to something exciting, but they never happen. Ultimately, this film was exactly what I expected in virtually every way. There were no surprises, and I left feeling quite let down.
Brad Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, the astronaut son of famed space hero Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who disappeared on a deep space mission to Neptune in search of alien life. When Clifford's expedition threatens all life in the universe, Roy is charged with contacting his possibly still alive father to find out what's going on. But the military lies to Roy, and when he finds out their true agenda, he commandeers the mission himself and goes to Neptune to find him. On paper, this sounds intriguing and entertaining, and for the most part, it is. Pitt does a decent job, though he is often a bit one-note. Same goes for Jones. The biggest problems come in the execution and the lack of investment. We don't spend enough time with anyone besides Pitt to care about their journey, and the film spends so much time showing off the production design that it suffers in building a compelling narrative.
Ad Astra may grow on me, now that I know what to expect. It's got so many cool ideas and directions that it could go in, but James Gray played it way too safe and gave audiences another bland space movie with a familial subtext that frankly, I'm tired of seeing. We get it. Space travel is tough on family life. What about the warring mining territories on the moon? Or the rabid, diseased baboons that took down an entire spacecraft? How about the expedition for alien life that discovered countless new worlds? All of these are throw-away moments in Ad Astra that would've made far more entertaining films.