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Visually Brilliant ‘Ad Astra’ Attempts A Different Take On the Space Genre – Review

Over the years, films about space have become more prevalent and Ad Astra is one of the many that’s been released and/or screened via film festival this year. With a refreshing spin on the typical stories audiences have seen, Ad Astra still falls victim to certain tropes. However, Brad Pitt’s fine performance as the film’s protagonist helps to elevate the movie. 

Set in the near future, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is on a mission when strange power surges begin to happen throughout the solar system, causing explosions and disaster in their wake. With several astronauts losing their lives in an instant, and McBride being one of the survivors, he is tasked with providing a mission report to his superiors. However, what his superiors want to speak about is a project from 26 years prior referred to as the “Lima Project” – a project where Roy’s famous astronaut father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) is said to have died. Having traced the power surges back to that project’s base, Clifford’s death now seems as though it was all a ruse.

Brad Pitt as Roy McBride in Ad Astra (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Trapped between astonishment and disbelief, Roy must aid Mission Control to establish communication with him, which involves another mission into space Of course, space is unpredictable and nothing goes as planned. With a myriad of obstacles thrown in Roy’s path, the trip to finding his father becomes all the more treacherous and not only is his life in danger, but also the lives of the astronaut crew who are attached to the mission alongside him. The final destination would be the Lima Project base on Neptune – but whether or not Roy makes it, well you’ll just have to watch the film to find out. 

Directed by James Gray, Ad Astra has a lot going for it. Visually, it is stunning and while it attempts to bring some new elements into the space-thriller genre, there were still some elements that proved to be generic. Pitt was great as the film’s protagonist and as he was alone for many parts, the film relies on him carrying many of the scenes, and Pitt did just that. To be honest, he was the film’s bright spot. Part of this was likely due to the fact that when Pitt’s McBride interacted with other characters, they did not usually last long enough to make an impression. Therefore, most other characters we meet ultimately felt wasted – most of whom were either women and/or people of colour (i.e. Liv Tyler as Eve McBride and Sean Blakemore as Willie Levant). The only one who leaves an impact aside from Jones as Clifford, is Ruth Negga as Helen Lantos. Roy’s isolation is certainly the core of the film, and with that being the case it would have been better if some of these other characters hadn’t been introduced to serve little to no purpose. 

Brad Pitt as Roy McBride in Ad Astra (Photo by Francois Duhamel – 20th Century Fox)

As the theme of ‘daddy issues’ is one that is pretty universal, it was interesting to have it set with a backdrop as vast as space – a place that is filled with variables and unknowns, just like the current status of Roy’s relationship with his father. That being said, while the father/son dynamic worked well in the film and helps differentiate it from past space films audiences have received lately, it still did not feel interesting enough to keep the movie from feeling quite slow in spots. Due to this, the film felt longer than its 2-hour runtime and ultimately didn’t help my enjoyment of the film. While there were many things to enjoy about Ad Astra, there were also many things I disliked (but I will not get into specifics as I like to keep my reviews spoiler free). Therefore, I was in a strange place when I left the theater. Despite the film having grand plans to examine this difficult parental relationship and the isolation that threatens to undo Roy by juxtaposing it with the exploration of space, it comes undone by Gray’s execution. Perhaps, had he been more forward with his vision and cut down the runtime, the film would be more effective with what it is trying to communicate. That being said, I am sure that many people will find the film to be enjoyable and it’s worth a watch just from a technical standpoint alone. It is the kind of movie that translates well on the big-screen and will likely look amazing in its IMAX format.

Ad Astra tries to change the usual dealings of space into something more touching and profound, but I am not necessarily sure if it completely succeeds. However, if you want to see a film that is a technical achievement visually and showcases a great performance by one of Hollywood’s favourite leading men, then Ad Astra is for you. 

Ad Astra is in theaters now. 

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