If you’ve seen the trailers for Ad Astra, you might be under the impression that it’s a space thriller set in the not‐too‐distant future starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut who’s been sent into the depths of the solar system to find his famous astronaut dad (Tommy Lee Jones) and uncover a shocking secret about the universe and human existence. You likely have some ideas about what such a massive secret might involve, as I did, but I won’t give anything away.
The movie is technically about those things, I guess. And while there are a few standout sequences that are indeed thrilling, I would never classify this film as a thriller. Instead, it’s a slow‐moving and contemplative drama that is mostly about a guy with a whole lotta daddy issues. It is gorgeous to look at, and if you’re into awe‐inspiring space scenes, then you’re in for a treat. But I felt let down by the promise of one thing and the delivery of something very different — and, to me, much less interesting.
In between many many inner monologues we hear Pitt’s character, Major Roy McBride, recite in his low‐energy and monotonous way, there are three action‐packed scenes that might provide enough of a payoff for some moviegoers. The first comes right at the beginning, as we see a massive energy surge blow astronauts off of space antennas and cause global blackouts. We soon learn that the US Space Command (SpaceCom) believes these surges are originating from Neptune, the last known location of Roy’s decorated astronaut father, Clifford McBride, who was on a search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe as part of the “Lima Project.” However, Clifford cut off contact with SpaceCom under mysterious circumstances years and years ago. Now SpaceCom believes Roy is the only person Clifford might reveal his current whereabouts to, if he’s even still alive, helping them determine if the surges are related to the Lima Project. But to get a message to the Neptune station, Roy must be a little closer… as in, he must be on Mars.
The second great scene comes as Roy is on a now‐commercialized moon (I did laugh at the fact that there was an Applebee’s on the moon, because that probably really will happen one day), being transported on a buggy to the rocket that will be taking him to Mars. Unfortunately, the moon is like the Wild West, and the team protecting Roy is soon attacked by “space pirates.” This was my favorite part of the movie — it looks real, it’s beautiful, and it’s edge‐of‐your‐seat intense.
The third compelling sequence comes when Roy and another astronaut respond to a distress call from a space station they pass on their way to Mars. Let’s just say they don’t find anything good there.
Evening out those standout scenes are a few that are so ridiculous they took me completely out of the movie. I can believe that in the future we may have colonized the moon and have space stations looking for intelligent life near Neptune. I cannot believe that any person — even Brad Pitt — would survive an attempt to climb up and inside a rocket ship AS IT IS FIRING UP for launch.
Director James Gray (The Lost City of Z), along with his co‐writer Ethan Gross, took some risks in where Ad Astra goes and how it ends. And of course they probably didn’t have much say in how it was marketed. While I thought Brad Pitt’s performance was solid and I admired Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography, I was not moved by this family‐centric space drama like I was by others such as Interstellar or Arrival. Instead, I was bored. If you decide to give it a try, I sincerely hope you feel differently.