Ad Astra stars Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Liv Tyler and was directed by James Gray. It tells the story of astronaut Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, as he ventures into deep space in search of his father with the hope of preventing the destruction of the solar system.
I have to admit that even after thinking on this movie for several days, I don’t quite know how to verbalize my feelings about it. And, I can’t tell if that’s something that’s praiseworthy of the movie or damning of it. I will say that I think general audiences will find this to be a fairly disappointing movie. But, I think that’s in large part due to the somewhat misleading marketing.
The trailers present this as a space action drama, but that’s kinda deceptive. There are certainly exciting moments, but if you’re going into this expecting a sci-fi action blockbuster, you’re definitely gonna be disappointed. Ad Astra is first and foremost an introspective character study. It delves into things like duty, loneliness, apathy, and even father-son relationships under the guise of a futuristic space movie. And when you think about it, space is the perfect setting to explore those themes. The vast, unknown expanses of the universe breed loneliness and reclusivity and the central plot of an astronaut searching for his long-lost father falls right in line with the broader ideas of emotional distance and self-discovery. So, it’s no surprise that space movies have covered this material before.
This film certainly retreads themes and even plot points of other space movies, but something about it is distinctive. Here, we really get a sense of our protagonist’s inner-thoughts. Some might criticize this movie for telling more than it shows with Roy, but I think it’s very fitting for this story. Roy is presented as this exceptionally reserved, calm, and collected professional. He can compartmentalize the various aspects of his life and, as a result, comes across fairly stoic which makes it really hard for us to get a good reading of him.
The frequent voice-over narration and especially the psychological evaluations Roy submits provide us with insight that’s really essential to our understanding of his character. And, it should come as no surprise, but Brad Pitt’s performance takes it to a whole other level. He’s able to portray Roy’s hyper-focused outward appearance without sacrificing the subtleties of his inner turmoil. Although the character side of this movie is definitely the focus, there’s no denying that the sci-fi and space aspects are impressive too. The near-future setting is great and it’s really interesting to see the filmmakers’ vision of things like commercial lunar travel and deep-space exploration.
This is a visually-stunning movie and all of the space scenes are incredibly artistically-crafted. Even though they’re not the focus of the story, there are a lot of impressive action sequences in this film. They’re spaced out in a way that anytime the movie begins to feel like it’s losing steam, something eventful will happen to grab your attention again. Whether that be the thrilling space antenna sequence, the surprisingly exciting lunar rover chase, the tense mayday response, or any number of other memorable sequences.
They’re great, but do feel a bit episodic, making you keenly aware of their purpose as excitement-injectors into the story. Ad Astra is the type of movie that I think needs multiple viewings. Not cause it’s got a complex plot or is difficult to understand the first time around, but cause of its characterization and main themes. I realized pretty early on in this movie that it was a character study, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the mystery of the plot too. So, I think now that I know what happens, a second viewing would let me really focus exclusively on Roy cause I think there’s a lot more to his character than I was able to pick up on this first time around.
This movie is certainly a slow-burn, but if you go into it with the right mindset, the deliberate pacing reveals a thought-provoking look into the mind of somebody who’s emotionally (and eventually, physically) isolated. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the introspective character study. On the surface, this seems like a slow-paced space drama, but the themes it explores through the lens of Roy’s stoicism and focus are really interesting and, at times, surprisingly relatable.
Using a sci-fi movie to expound on these ideas isn’t exactly unique, but it’s done in a really compelling and thought-provoking way here. Brad Pitt’s performance definitely helps to sell it and I found myself really captivated by the character. Pro number two has gotta be the visuals. They’re genuinely striking at points and add this grand, cinematic arthouse flair to the contained character-driven story.
Space movies are kinda known for being visual-groundbreakers: everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Gravity and Interstellar have brought something visually innovative and impressive to the table. And now we can include Ad Astra in that conversation. As far as cons go, the only issue I had with this movie was its pacing and I personally wouldn’t consider it a big issue. There’s no question that Ad Astra is a slow-burn. If that comes as a surprise to you when you’re in the theater, then the pacing is gonna be a huge detriment for you. But, if you go in expecting a character study, then I think you’ll be okay with the pace. It’s certainly slow and, at times, a little too slow, but the interjections of action really help to maintain interest when the story starts to drag a bit.
I’m gonna give Ad Astra 4 out of 5 paws. To be honest, when I first started to write this review, I wasn’t sure what I was gonna give it. Even now, I’m not sure I could back up this rating with anything tangible. Just something about the exploration of the character of Roy connected with me and the more I think about it, the more profound it seems. I’ll be interested to see if my feelings about it change on rewatch, but for now, I’ve gotta go with 4 paws. I would recommend Ad Astra to people who like character studies. If the inner thoughts of a character and how those thoughts dictate that character’s actions are something you find interesting, then I think you’ll really like this movie.
It’s certainly a bonus if you enjoy sci-fi movies and space exploration. Just don’t go in expecting an action blockbuster cause it’s definitely a slow-burn. If you liked Ad Astra, I would recommend Moon for another character-driven space movie that explores ideas of loneliness and isolation. Despite its pretty small scope, it’s got a really compelling story. For another recent space movie that centers on a highly focused and professional astronaut character, be sure to check out First Man. Rather than the near-future, that movie explores Neil Armstrong’s life during the 1960s and his run-up to the Apollo 11 mission. And if the impressive visuals of Ad Astra were what you enjoyed, definitely check out Interstellar. It’s a much faster-paced film, but there are definite visual similarities, plus it explores the trade-off between family and space work.
Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Ad Astra? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite character-driven space movie? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going. Alright, so if you got some enjoyment, insight, or information out of this review, I’d appreciate