REVIEW: Ad Astra
Have you ever wanted to watch a depressed man float around in the inky blackness of space for 2 hours? Well do I have the movie for you!
Ad Astra is about astronaut Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, who is sent on a mission to find his absentee workaholic father who beat him as a child, played by Tommy Lee Jones.
Tommy Lee’s science-ing around on Neptune has mysteriously led to giant waves of cosmic energy flooding our solar system. These waves overload electronics and have already killed around 50,000 people across multiple planetary outposts. Earth hasn’t heard from Tommy in years, but regardless, they’re going to assume he’s alive and can be swayed by Brad Pitt to stop doing whatever is causing all the spaceships to go whoopsie.
There is so much I dislike about this movie.
The title itself is one of the most pretentious things I’ve ever seen. I mean, Ad Astra? It requires you to search IMDb trivia or take an ancient Latin course to even understand, much less appreciate.
The shadowy minimalist visuals felt incredibly flat. Clearly they were meant to convey a sense of isolation but it was more effective at making me fall asleep than contemplate loneliness. Ya ever watch paint dry? Ever stare at a photograph for so long you feel like it changes? That’s this flick. When paired with the droning ambient electronica score it’s almost a surefire recipe for slumber.
Ad Astra also features some of the worst voice over I’ve ever heard. No joke, it dominates at least half the moments that could have been interesting.
Does Brad Pitt really need to tell me how to think about the development of the moon base? Does he really have to vocalize how he feels about dead crew mates? Does he really need to wrap everything up with a little slam poetry in the finale? I swear it’s like these filmmakers learned nothing from the theatrical release of Blade Runner. Your audience isn’t filled with goo goo gah gah babies who can’t pick up on facial cues.
The character dynamics of Ad Astra are by far the worst aspect of the film. Truly abysmal stuff here.
The writers thought it would be a good idea to put a detached protagonist in a world full of people who purposefully drug themselves to have less emotions and just…stay there. Baffling.
The thing about stoic personalities is that they’re best defined by contrast. Sci-fi in particular seems to love pairing up the dispassionate with those who feel very deeply: Star Trek has Kirk for Spock, Blade Runner has the Replicants for Deckard, The Matrix has Morpheus for Neo, you get the picture. It’s tried and true methodology.
If you don’t go that route and decide to create something with more pizzazz the emotional contrast usually comes from within the protagonist themselves. Your main characters may be in a depressed blank face world, but by the end of that story, the world has to evolve into something else. It’s pretty powerful conflict, and using this second method, we get stuff like The Lobster and THX 1138.
Ad Astra desperately tries to give us some pizzazz but there’s an excruciating length of time between setting up the dispassionate existence and paying off the idea that things must change. As a result the audience is forced to watch a bunch of inexpressive people move coldly from place to place with only the vaguest hints of motivation. UGH! Excruciating! All this wandering finally accumulates at the very tail end of the 3rd act where a mostly vacant Brad Pitt fails his psychological testing, but by that point, I didn’t even care.
I might have appreciated this story more if there was a greater contrast between Brad Pitt and another character who goes on this journey with him. Maybe they could have made use of his totally pointless ex-wife played by Liv Tyler? Or if that idea is too adventure-y, I might have appreciated Ad Astra more if the writers had just gotten to the 3rd act contrast a bit faster. Say his emotional walls start clearly breaking at page 30 rather than 90?
Regardless, this film’s structure, tone, and characters actively work against the worldbuilding and the result is a chore to watch. I did not find it entertaining. I would not recommend it to anyone.
All that said, Ad Astra is not a lazy film.
The actors give convincing performances, the concept seemed unique to me, and the moon scenes are an undeniable showcase of promise. The psychological metaphors were well integrated into the plot, compelled me despite the dull characters, and showcased dealing with traumatizing parents in a nuanced way. It takes big swings, and for that I gotta respect it, even though I fervently dislike it.
The sad thing is, sometimes when you take big swings ya just whiff real big.
P.S. Why couldn’t y’all have made a movie about the moon pirates? Please. Please make an emotionally complex moon pirate movie. I need that in my life.
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