I went into Ad Astra blind. I hadn’t seen the trailer, and I wasn’t familiar with the storyline. This is one of the first films in awhile I’ve approached without expectations. Did it make a difference for me? Not really. Perhaps, I’m less disappointed having not seen the trailer, which actually teases some rather cool-looking scenes. The problem is when you watch the movie, not even the incredible cinematography can save audiences from a painful storyline that tries too hard to strike an emotional chord.
This film may take place largely in space, but it’s not a “space movie”. The story follows astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) as he travels to the outer edges of our solar system to not only find his missing father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) but also to find himself, and lastly, to get to the bottom of a mystery that threatens the future of Earth.
Take a look at the trailer below.
Ad Astra Trailer
Ad Astra Review: What I Liked and Didn’t Like
The film is set in a not too distant future. We have massive bases on the Moon and Mars, yet we still drive relatively normal-looking cars. Granted, we only see one of these cars for a split-second, and we see no branding on this “car of the future.” What’s my takeaway with that? Not even the car brands wanted to touch this film.
I highlight the above because it’s one of the many areas that I felt the movie didn’t even try. The film is so focused on Pitt’s emotionally muted character and his abandonment issues from Daddy Jones that it doesn’t even explore the parts of the story that are really cool. I would have loved to have seen more of the Space Station. How did it get to be the structure that is? The Moon seems like the Wild West. How did that come to be? What’s it like to visit/live/work there? How did the Mars base come to be? Ruth Negga’s character has grown up on Mars, how has growing up in that environment shaped her? There were so many other interesting and worthy of exploration concepts here that the film never touches on.
Now, before I conclude my rant, and you say, “Well, Emma, that’s not what the film was about, so that’s why it didn’t focus on those elements.” I get that. But what the film was about, was a one-dimensional character that wasn’t capable of showing any emotion, which means the audience (or at least this viewer) didn’t experience any emotion either. The only thing this film has going for it is incredible visuals and some pretty good sound editing and mixing. It’s worthy of seeing in Dolby or IMAX for those elements alone, as visually and audibly the film is a work of art.
So what about the acting? I don’t dislike Brad Pitt, and I get that he’s playing an emotionally shut-off character in this movie. However, his demeanor also shuts the audience out of the story. The reason his character is so good at what he does is that he always stays calm -- which is a good analogy for the film. Even the moments that are supposed to be exciting, just feel calm. The gravity of big decisions that need to be made, are made with little to no convincing, which takes away from the authenticity of the characters. For instance, Tommy Lee Jones’ character says that he can’t do something, and three minutes is doing the opposite. (Yes, I know what happens next (no spoilers here), but I also didn’t feel like that decision was in line with his character.)
When you feel that characters are constructed instead of real, it’s hard to connect with a film. And you could totally make an argument for that is what this film is about, shutting one’s self down and not having reactions to things you should. But I also don’t feel like I should have to go that deep to try to find a reason to justify a film’s purpose. It’s simply wasn’t entertaining for me to watch, though 81% of critics feel completely different than I do.
Overall, beautiful though it was, Ad Astra felt like it was missing heart. The pacing was monotonous, the acting bland, and the story tried too hard to show emotional complexity. It feels as if there is a giant void at the core of this movie. And there are tons of space puns I could make here, but I think you get the point. I imagine that we will see some Oscar nominations for this film on the technical side, but as much as I adore films that explore space -- this one did nothing for me.
Ad Astra Review: