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Ad Astra: A Review

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I had a chance to watch a bunch of movies recently, and I’m really not sure which to discuss first. I’m going to go with the one that I had the most hopes for, even though those hopes were (spoilers!) dashed.

Please note: I saw this movie on an airplane, and it was apparently edited. One would not expect that anything key would have been removed or altered, but there it is.

Ad Astra is a science fiction drama starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray. It’s about an astronaut sent to find his father who is somehow intertwined with a threat to Earth (and—I think—the solar system). That’s the drama part—the family dynamic. The science fiction part is that the father is part of a mission to find extraterrestrial life and is near or in orbit of Neptune. 

Listen, this is a very beautiful movie. It is made with the utmost craftsmanship, and there is a real weight to the action and the sets in which that story unfold. But for all that, it seems sterile.

I found this very much a quieter homage to Apocalypse Now intertwined with the Partridge-Mackey father-son alienation angle of Magnolia. There is a lot of Apocalypse Now in the style of the story and its forward progress—and I mean that movie rather than Heart of Darkness, as there are a lot of similarities to the style of the movie absent from the novella. And while I like both that movie and the novella on which it is based, I didn’t enjoy Ad Astra.

Pitt’s character is almost completely a cypher in a way that neither Marlow nor Willard ever were. There is an in-story reason for this, but it still created a wall that didn’t allow me to sympathize with his character. And I also never really felt there was a connection between him and his father. With both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, this is not a problem as Kurtz is a mysterious figure, only partially revealed—even at the climax. But the father is much more Kurtz than the Earl Partridge character in Magnolia. The murkiness of the father’s character and the impenetrability of the son’s left me cold to the very crux of the movie.

And what the heck was with the moon buggy chase? It was like the filmmakers decided they needed some action. The consequences of that scene do not propel the story forward or inject anything of interest, and there is no reference back to it or the situation that created it. It is like it is from a different movie.

My opinions seem to be in the minority, so I may just have been missing something. Pitt’s character is the spine of the movie, and he was inaccessible to me. The other characters that drop in and fall out left no real imprint and seemed much more to be plot devices than actual characters, with odd turns that did not fit with the characters as presented to that point. Even the main character’s motivations—which are very clearly spelt out—ring false given everything else we are presented regarding him.

I do not recommend Ad Astra. I give it 2.5 long, drawn-out shots of beautiful space out of 5. It is a distant, unengaging story with gorgeous visuals. It offered me no emotional connection at all.