“Ad Astra”, directed by James Gray, follows the story of astronaut extraordinaire Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) as he travels across the stars. Roy is a simple man, who retains an almost inhuman ability to remain calm in drastic events, such as an explosion from the space antennae he was working on that hurtled him from the upper atmosphere back down to Earth. Roy also has plenty of psychological baggage, with his father Clifford McBride (played by Tommy Lee Jones) going missing on a mission to Neptune nearly 30 years ago, and his wife leaving him for not being open or present in the relationship. But this all pales in comparison to the fact that the Earth is buffeted by massive electrical storms that are wreaking havoc on critical equipment and putting lives in danger. Roy is contacted by the US Space Command and is briefed on a “Top Secret” mission: hiis father, who went missing 30 years ago, may very well still be alive, and also may be the cause of all of these electrical storms. Roy is then tasked with finding his father, and ending whatever is causing these storms to occur, but he must battle not only the dangers of space, but also his own ghosts in his past.
If you’re looking for scientific accuracy in this movie, simply walk the other way. The movie attempts to immerse you in a high tech near-future with techno-babble and “operating under procedures”, but as the movie continues on, it becomes harder and harder to take it seriously. Between open airlocks that are never closed, a disregard for how gravity works with one character literally climbing up a rocket as it is launching but simultaneously experiencing zero gravity, and baboons that are able to move easily through space in zero gravity, the movie would have been better off if it hadn’t tried so hard to make it seem realistic. It gives the impression of realism, but ignores the vast knowledge we already have and instead opts to use what is entertaining, which in its own respect is fine, but as a movie it should either fully invest in being realistic, or never bother to dive into details and simply just tell the story.
The cinematography is extremely well executed however, with many scenes being a feast for the eyes, and the colors and tones corroborating with what is actually happening in the scene. The sound design is exceptional as well, with one scene on the lunar surface having some of the most mindful sound design I have witnessed in a long time. The acting is also extremely well done, with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones showing their expertise and experience in bringing levels of emotion to the screen without having to rely on dialogue to show what they mean.
On the other side of the coin, the movie is mainly a long monologue from Roy McBride, lamenting on his past and attempting to think outside of his own mental habits, with many of the scenes focusing solely on Roy trying to work through everything that is happening to him: “Is my dad really causing all of this? Who am I as a person? Why am I here?”. With some sequences of sci-fi action, it gives the casual viewer a decent experience, but for the most part, if you are not a fan of drama or personal reflection, it’s hard to enjoy. This movie is a slow burn and rather than action or outright conflict, it focuses highly on what it means to be a human, and what it means to fight your inner demons. Roy puts on a brave face and compartmentalizes everything he comes across, but as the movie progresses and the stakes are raised, we see those walls begin to break down.
For the general viewer, this movie is a one-time watch and will soon be forgotten by all but the critics. For the literature analyst and movie buff, it prompts discussion and intrigue and makes the viewer think about life, with more than enough content for a movie analysis class to write a report on. For the scientists and the nerds who loved “The Martian”, this movie is an abomination that should have never tried. Overall, the movie does its job and takes you away from your day to day worries, but unless you’re willing to write an in-depth analysis of Roy McBride’s cathartic journey, it’s not for everyone. I’m giving Ad Astra 3 out of 5. The acting was great, the cinematography was amazing, and the sound design was extremely well done. The rest we can send out of the airlock.