In the near future, space-flight has become a part of life. After a catastrophic surge wrought havoc on earth, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) must travel to Neptune to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) who may just be behind the cataclysm.
Ad Astra is one of the strangest blockbusters made in recent years. Dedicated for the most part to realistic depictions of space travels and a hypothetical near future in which commercial space flight has become routine, it also features episodes of pure camp. To complete his journey, Pitt must survive a pirate attack on the moon, explode an angry space monkey and hijack a rocket during takeoff. These moments are quite amusing but totally at odds with the tone of the film and only loosely connected to its themes of isolation and misanthropy.
Pitt’s character is by his nature someone who has trouble connecting with others and expressing himself. Consequently, this is a very reserved performance by Pitt in which he subtly hints at the drama unfolding beneath his cool exterior. It’s a nuanced performance but a lack of more relatable human characters elsewhere in the cast does mean that the film is a little chilly when it comes to humanity.
Perhaps to combat this there’s an unnecessary narration from Pitt that has the whiff of studio interference. It certainly recalls the mandated narration from Blade Runner. Occasionally it aspires to the poetry of Apocalypse Now but more often is too obvious and used for the sake of exposition. Perhaps the prospect of an almost entirely silent space film frightened some producers, but I’d be very interested in a more ambiguous Ad Astra.
It’s a stunningly beautiful film. The camera is often catastrophically close to Pitts character, emphasising his difficulty on getting away from himself. Through Pitt we experience stunning views of the cosmos and exquisitely detailed production design. The underground base on Mars has a medieval quality to it whilst the lunar base feels like a futuristic airport. It’s a visually arresting vision of a space fairing future.
Ad Astra is a very strange space epic that I’m sure will improve on repeat viewings. Despite occasional bouts of cheese, it’s a grimly introspective journey to the stars that explores isolation and the parental relationship. It’s about letting go and discovering a purpose, even if it takes you to the end of the universe. The pacing is for the most part absorbing and visuals are stunning.