The cinema maintains a complicated relationship status with (more) hard-science science fiction stories and settings. However, it the last few years, more movies are being made with more importance placed on science. In the tradition of Interstellar, Homer's the Odyssey, and Heart of Darkness; comes Brad Pitt's and James Gray's voyage into the solar system with Ad Astra. I saw this movie in Medford, Oregon on 9/27/19 while far from home while attended a work training.
Ad Astra is a beautiful film that is well acted with some clever elements like off-world patterned camo uniforms, and is masterfully directed. The power of this film rests in a few scenes, like the lunar buggy battle and in its leading man. Brad Pitt is amazing in his coolness and silent power and that is good, because the film rests with him and Gray nearly solely. The US space Armed Forces division, Space Command and the off-world colonial activities of humanity are well done here and very unlike anything we've seen in other films. In addition, the emotional toll of Brad Pitt's past and his journey to find his missing father near Neptune is compelling and transports the audience along with him. The BAD
In the film, there mention of anti-matter and I think that is a great symbol of Ad Astra. For everything there is a mirror and when combine, they explode. For every good element in the film, there is a counter that nulls it. The moon rover combat scene is both beautiful and arresting, as well as very tactically stupid at the same time. The lunar pirates have better guns than the SPACECOM soldiers? Why is there no armor or ballistic protection for the vehicle or the military space suits when the pirates are know and they are on a VIP escort mission? Maddening. There are key point events that happen and they seem so separate and isolated at the time, allowing the feeling of the isolation and danger to surround the film...which is good on one hand and bad on another. The central story is not handled well and not fleshed out enough to support the buildup.
Then there is Mars. The moon portions of the film where handled well, but then they went to Mars and it looks the interior decoration was handled by the crew from THX 1138 and the Soviet 1972 Solaris film! It is odd and shockingly strange when compared to the other sets in the film. Mars needs the Property Brothers apparently. Then there those little things that crop up during the film that should been explained. Many the audience were confused by the travel times mentioned in the film. It took Brad Pitt 72 days to get from Mars to Neptune and only 17 days from Luna to Mars and that is never explained fully. In addition, how is Tommy Lee Jones character able to survive for decades at Neptune without resupply? The UGLY ****WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!****
Throughout the film, it is repeated to us over and over again that the human race is searching for intelligent alien life and is bearing extreme cost for the search. Major Roy McBride's father undertook a dangerous mission to scan the Milky Way galaxy for intelligent life beyond the heliosphere. However, when the information comes that the Lima Project scan has revealed nothing...just emptiness among the heavens, it is not treated with much importance or screen time despite the massive build up. This also the treatment that the source and explanation of the energy pulses that resulting in power surges are given as well. It is just odd, much like the rest of the film, and it completely erodes the soul of the film.
The Bottomline on AD ASTRA
It is beautiful space-based take on Heart of Darkness and Odyssey that masterfully handled by Pitt and Gray with stunning moments and visuals that make it one of the most beautiful sci-fi films since Gattaca. But, it also in desperate need of a much better script and this cripples the movie mortally. For all of the excellent visuals, superior directions, and fine acting that made Ad Astra have everything in place it then failed to get the one fundamental foundational element: a good story. If you have not seen this film and you are curious...go see it with guarded expectations on the story, but be prepared to amazed at the visuals and emotions generated by them and Brad Pitt's journey into himself and to Neptune.