Hollywood should make more space movies like this one!!!
Set in the near future where both commercial and federal space travel are an everyday occurrence, Ad Astra follows Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) as he is thrust into a mission that sees him charged with finding a way to stop a series of increasingly strange power surges emanating from a long lost space mission way out at the edges of our solar system. But with the surges becoming more frequent and destructive by the day, Roy’s voyage across the stars soon becomes a race against time to stop a threat that hits closer to home than he would care to admit, one that the maddening crawl across the vast bleakness of space isn’t making any easier to contend with.
I really like space-centric movies. They might be my favorite types of films mostly because any movie that sets its sights on the future and what we as humans can accomplish when we aim for the stars and beyond, intrigues and excites me on levels I can’t even explain. So when I walked into Ad Astra barely knowing anything about the film other than the fact that it was Brad Pitt in space, you can bet that I was strapped in and ready to be rocketed into the darkness of the unknown, giddy on the idea that this film seemed to be exactly the kind of flick I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time. Fortunately and unfortunately, Ad Astra succeeds in a lot of ways that I was hoping for, but also stumbles in more ways than I was expecting, leaving the final cut floating somewhere between being a gripping look into the personal struggles of our protagonist and his mission to Neptune, and a less successful, plodding, and sometimes meandering look into the life of a space traveler.
Smartly set sometime in the “near future”, Ad Astra immediately held me with some of the best world building I’ve seen in a while. By simply having the characters and script skip (most) of the exposition when it comes to the world they live in and the history behind it (they make traveling to Mars seem like it’s the equivalent to going down the street to pick up some milk), the filmmakers are able to show off a futuristic, yet realistic world that shows what our lives would be like if we commercialize space travel and finally got our shit together by taking living on Mars – and space exploration in general – seriously. I specifically loved the way lunar travel was depicted in the sense that it’s comparable to flying out of an airport, just, you know, in freakin’ space instead. Mix in a handful of brilliant scenes on the surface of the moon and some truly tense set pieces that involve space walks, rocket ships, and laser guns, and you have a film that hits the head on setting up a near future that I’d love to live to see.
And although these scenes – and the acting/directing surrounding them – are most definitely the highest highs of the film in the way they perfectly blend some great sci-fi concepts while still staying true to the realism being presented throughout, Ad Astra doesn’t always hit those highs, and when it doesn’t, the impression I got was not one of delight and excitement, but more of slight boredom mixed with confusion.
Disregarding the fact that by the end of it all the story came together as a more somber, melancholic and slowly paced tale than I would have liked, my biggest problem with what was happening onscreen was the issues I had with the script itself. It wasn’t necessarily anything having to do with the execution of the script as much as the elements of the script that didn’t make sense to begin with. There are times when the overly used narration by Pitt’s character seems a bit too exposition-y and melancholy for its own good while also effectively slowing the pacing of the story down simply because we have to sit through five minutes of a long, drawn out monologue of Roy’s thoughts about literally everything happening around him. In all honesty, the narration does do its job when it services the story, but as with a lot of things in this film, when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work.
Same goes for a handful of scenes that I personally felt like had no real purpose in driving the story forward. These scenes, while they might be fun to watch visually, really just gave off a “filler” type of vibe that annoyed me and yet again slowed the pacing of the film down to a point that a tighter edit and leaner script might have solved. Throw in a bunch of scenes where the dialogue and character choices just don’t make sense or are just plain dumb, and you have a film that teeters from being a fantastic space set movie to one that doesn’t seem to have a handle on itself or the ideas it sets forth.
While Ad Astra does a lot right in regards to its near future setting, world building, acting and overall tone, the actual script stumbles from time to time when delivering scenes and instances that don’t relate to said aspects of the film. It almost seemed as if the filmmakers needed one last pass at the script to really fine tune what they wanted this movie to be especially considering that the film’s sluggish pacing and general meandering around the core idea of the story seemed more like weird filler than anything of real substance that was integral to the plot. Regardless, I mostly enjoyed this film – Brad Pitt especially – and wish we had more like it!