Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) who at a young age lost his father (Tommy Lee Jones) to the most audacious space exploration expedition ever conducted. Now an adult, McBride has dedicated his life to the same career as an astronaut conducting missions to assist in the search for other life in the universe. When told by his superiors that his father might still indeed be alive living out past Neptune, McBride embarks a journey of discovery to find and save him.
What works in Ad Astra are the visuals and the initial mystery. Writer/director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) creates several stunning shots, leveraging the unusual space-based locales to tremendous effect. Entire sequences filmed off the golden reflections of astronauts’ visors are particularly impressive, as is a car chase set upon the moon’s low-gravity terrain. It has been reported that Gray wanted to present a futuristic, but realistic, take on what space travel would look like and he certainly succeeds in doing so.
Gray with co-writer Ethan Gross (Fringe) lay the foundation of a plot that is engaging and suspenseful, but one that becomes tragically aimless as it progresses. With this in mind, Ad Astra is not for audiences that do not enjoy long deliberate sequences set in space, plot questions without answers, murky character motivations, and heavy-handed message delivery. After a few rather thrilling few opening scenes, Ad Astra becomes both too fast and too slow at the same time. For example, while traversing his unique environments McBride encounters several intriguing individuals portrayed by established talent (Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, and Ruth Negga to name a few). However, these interactions are brief and never allow for depth or resolution. Alternatively, Gray spends considerably time on McBride’s self-admitted defining characteristic: stoicism. For most, several minutes of watching Brad Pitt watch the nothingness of space is likely tedious at best.
Ad Astra is a character study about coming to terms with the reality of people—both the self and the self-created image of others. While Gray proves some mastery with creative visual effects, the conclusions to the majority of the arcs (both with characters and plot) will likely be dissatisfying to most audiences.
Recommended if you enjoyed: First Man, Solaris
FINAL GRADE: C
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