I stumbled upon a user review on IMDB which stated that Ad Astra is “a pretentious Armageddon” and while this made me laugh out loud, it’s not true… not entirely.
Ad Astra, to the stars, beyond consciousness and looking for answers that would change our understanding of life, the universe, simply everything. James Gray takes on some ambitious themes and tries to wrap them in a visually stunning space exploration – with mediocre success. Hoyte Van Hoytema once again delivers his quite exhilarating cinematography expertise but the story can’t keep up.
Roy “Slow-Heartbeat” McBride (Brad Pitt) is too cool to ever get nervous about anything, not even free-falling hundreds of kilometers towards Earth. Until he is asked to assist in completing a mission his father (Tommy Lee Jones) had started 30 years prior because its surging remnants are threatening the entire Solar System. Like father, like son – he is determined to recover whatever is at the end of the road.
The kind of determination that morphs into obsession and finally mania. Literally nothing can stop this stoic, nonchalant astronaut including explosions and casualties left and right. Brad Pitt is undoubtedly a master at this game and yields quite the amount of gravitational force in this movie. Without him, this thing would accelerate into different dimensions, leaving us with unappealing shadows of a movie.
If we talk about coloring, transitions, light effects or music – this has Blade Runner written all over it. Frankly, Roy McBride is incredibly similar to K (Ryan Gosling). Our zeitgeist idea of the future mostly carries similar vibes and that is fine, but Ad Astra almost feels like a copy since there are no particularly original characters or lines in the dialogue. Nothing that would make you want to muse about this specific world or its inhabitants. The single exception is the sharp-looking Ruth Negga as Helen Lantos who was born on Mars, is a rebel at heart and a respectable leader on the surface.
Donald Sutherland (Colonel Pruitt) barely stays in your memory once you’ve reached the end. And just like in Armageddon, Liv Tyler (Eve McBride) is the woman left behind on the ground (addition by Leonie: #LivTylerDeservesBetter) but this time she’s not crying and worrying about her brave man all the time. She is almost like a soft touch that lingers in Roy’s mind and keeps him sane in desperate times. However, the one person who was able to keep up with Pitt is Tommy Lee Jones (Clifford McBride). He scarcely joins the story but just one look and I wanted to run the other way.
Something that still fascinates me is the fact that Ad Astra has such a slow pace, you have no choice but to cling on to the visual experience more than the story. And yet there are more exciting scenes that feel like a forceful disruption, sometimes even random (or in other words unnecessary). I felt as though this could represent the odd nature of life and happenings in the universe – odd only because we do not yet understand. Moreover, this movie nails the psychological effects of isolation and loneliness which seem inescapable when on a voyage through space.
Ad Astra is still definitely worth a visit to the cinema because it is one of those movies that encourages reflection and analysis. Maybe it pops back into your head weeks later and you have a completely new understanding of a certain scene or shot. My biggest issue is that the philosphical aspect was hardly touched upon and while leaving things to the imagination and individual interpretation deserves all the rage, you gotta give the audience something to grab on to or we all just drift off into the black abyss of dissatisfaction.
PS: I love the poster.