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Ad Astra Review | Escape to the Movies


And now, a mid-tier Awards Season scifi-drama
from 2019 that’s cast like a $100 Million blockbuster from 1998 with an early-2000s
premise and 2010’s Terrence Mallick-y whisper-narration framing shooting for the Oscars
in 2020 – how’s that for space-time dilation? Ad Astra is an ultra-realistic, no-bullshit,
no-romanticism, no-idealism near-future speculative sci-fi space-travel movie whose main gimmick
is that it is just so over the whole idea of space travel. Whereas even the scariest
movies about what might be waiting out among the dark matter – your Alien, your Predator,
your Event Horizon, your whatever else – at least honor the basic idea that there’s a merit
to flinging ourselves out into the stars even if there might be something nasty;
Ad Astra is very much on the side that says: “No it ain’t – outer space is isolating,
empty and dangerous, there’s zero indication that there’s anything out there worth finding
and people obsessed with looking are probably psychologically-malfunctioning misanthropes
who don’t know how to connect with other humans and/or forgot that what’s really
amazing is all the little details about people and flowers and feelings and humanity all around
them right down here on Earth.” Now if you know me you know I’m about as
far on the other end of that bullshit as you can get, which doesn’t really have any bearing on
the review here (because that wouldn’t be fair) but I bring it up to illustrate
the point that the film – while not perfect is at least good enough that I didn’t really take note
of how much of a direct go “f— yourself” it was to some of the relatively few closely
held ideals I actually still have until ruminating on it significantly laster afterwards…
So, if nothing else, I can safely say that the technical craft and emotional resonance
on display here are very much front and center as opposed to any kind of ham-handed moralizing
one way or another; which is kind of a welcome change given that the current trend for “intellectual”
science fiction is to repeatedly hold up allegedly terrifying technological trends or ideas about the same and shout, “Did you get the point!? If not, we can repeat it!!!”
In any case, story wise: It’s the near future and Brad Pitt is an Air Force Space Command astronaut
who does super-dangerous upper-atmosphere walks on towering space-antennas because he’s
a stoic near-emotionless fear-proof gargoyle of a man because if bottled-up masculine blankness
is keeping Ryan Gosling looking like a bearded 12 year-old at 38 there must be some health
benefit to it… Okay actually it’s because he’s got serious daddy issues: His astronaut father,
played by Tommy Lee Jones, was a legendary NASA hero who took off 26 years ago on a famous
mission to explore the outer solar system for signs of alien life and… disappeared never to return along with his experimental ship and crew. But now, out of nowhere, Earth, it’s satellites
and colonies on the Moon and Mars are being imperiled by powerful bursts of electronics-disrupting
“Antimatter Waves” being blasted at the planet from somewhere near Neptune; and wouldn’t
you know it: It’s coming from the not-actually-lost experimental research ship belonging to Pitt’s missing father, who the government now suspects may actually be alive after all these years on the ship and involved – possibly against
his will, possibly not – in the deployment of the Antimatter Wave attacks. If they are in fact attacks. The plan for now: Avoid a mass-panic long enough to covertly smuggle Pitt onto a secure radio-broadcast facility on Mars and see if he – among anyone – can make real contact with his father, establish what’s going on and how it might be shut down. Which involves sneaking through space ports on the moon, other spaceships, etc. No prizes for guessing that the plan is complicated, further complicated and ultimately thrown
into total disarray by the army and government not telling our hero the whole truth, myth-ruining
secrets about Jones’ actual personality and mission behavior waiting to be discovered,
the Antimatter Burst mucking things up at plot convenient times, a decidedly kickass
chase scene involving “lunar pirates” with kitted-out moon buggies and a jump-scare
reveal that I can all-but guarantee you will not see coming because, how could you? Like, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting that. All of it presented with
an attention to detail and functional realism regarding probable near-future space-tech
compelling and practically-oriented enough… …that it really does need to go all the
way into “Protagonist alone in the infinite blackness with his interior monologue of quasi-poetic
man-feels territory” before you really queue-in just how deliberately the literal “Brad Pitt
drifts to the edge of existence to literally confront the literal origin-point of his trauma
so that the literal ripple-effects of said trauma will stop literally ripping his world
apart” metaphor and actually go, “Ah, geez that’s, that’s a bit blunt now isn’t it?” And, you yeah, it sounds like I’m teasing the movie… which maybe I sort of am because right about the same
time that Ad Astra starts getting really, really explicit about this it’s… about the same
point where a lot of it becomes Pitt hovering in space while staring off into different space
doing soliloquies that are one step removed from the Irish Dad tough-guy poetry in The
Grey, and I also found myself going: “Oh, okay, solid ending …oh? Oh. We’re still
going…” like four or five times and each liking a little bit less.
But it ultimately finishes pretty strong, and the “getting there” is pretty satisfying as
movies about being down and unsatisfied go. Pitt’s very good especially when the resolve
has to start cracking, Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga show up to add welcome gravity
of two very different types in key supporting roles and the coming-and-going secondary cast
is solid overall even if this is very much a solo show for Pitt for a lot of it’s runtime; so kudos
to him and the Director James Gray for pulling it off. I mean it not a movie I can’t say was a fun watch,
but it’s was engaging, solid. I give it a strong 7 out of 10.

89 Comments

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers man Author

    I thought this movie was pretty damn incredible. Love the cinematography and the small details like the reflections off the glass of his helmit.. it was Interstellar meets Blade Runner in my opinion. Great damn movie and powerful message.

    Reply
  2. Trey Bushart Author

    Your summary was far more engaging and interesting than how it was delivered in the film. It never grabbed my attention or made me connect in any fashion with Pitt’s protagonist. Hard disagree on this one Bob, but I guess they can’t all be winners. Oh well.

    Reply
  3. Coffee And A Book Author

    From a scale of 'Interstellar' to 'Arrival' I give it a 'Gravity', it just doesn't quite make 'Contact' the way it needed to.
    ….

    'The Martian'

    Reply
  4. Blank Space Provided Author

    The tone of this movie was not really portrayed clearly in the trailers. This isn’t anything like Interstellar or Mission to Mars. This movie is basically Apocalypse Now in space.

    Reply
  5. Akitas in the House Author

    It's funny… I watched the entire review attentively start-to-finish, and while Bob did give it a decent rating, I really don't get the idea that he LIKED the movie…. I mean, was there a point where he actually said he was enjoying it? I'll probably take a look when I can stream it off the Cineplex website, but I'm not paying full theatre prices for a movie that Bob had to search his thesaurus to compliment.

    Reply
  6. CJusticeHappen21 Author

    I liked the movie, but I was having difficulty staying awake at times. It's symbolism heavy and at times you get the feeling that maybe it's a little contemptuous of the audience, but ultimately satisfying. Worth it enough for that scene on the research vessel where that "thing" happens.

    Reply
  7. Katherine Sanderson Author

    it just failed to make me care about anything happening in it, even the moon pirate action scene which I thought was at least visually pretty cool.

    Reply
  8. bad question Author

    I think Bob missed the point of this movie. It's sort of the same as Solaris. It's not that space travel isnt worth it, or that there isnt anything interesting out there. If you are a damaged human being living in the society that never fulfilled its potential, than going to space will not change that. In order to grow, appreciate, and advance from going to space, first we have to become the kind of people who can do that. No matter where you go, there you are.

    It's sort like this recent scetch with Adam Sandler. He plays a weary owner of Italian tours. He tries to talk to people so they wouldn't have false expectations. Travel can be a wonderful experience. But if you are a miserable person in New Jersey, you are going to be a miserable person in Sardinia. Travel can make an already happy person happier, but can make already miserable people even more depressed.
    Deal with your own shit, create a society that isnt this stupid and damaged. And only than you can appreciate the wonder of space, learn from it, and advance further as a society and individuals.
    I'm not saying you have to agree with this, but that's the message. I think, maybe.

    Reply
  9. Rafael Vaz Author

    Captain America at the end was the epitome
    of realistic no bullshit sick of space thingy the movie wanted to portray. Shit was laughable at best. A nuke as superboost was pretty fucking dumb as well.

    Reply
  10. The Logomaker Author

    This was an amazing film. I don’t care what anyone else says. It’s right up there with Interstellar: another powerful film that uses space to effectively communicate the emotional struggles of the character’s journey. Not to mention, the message of re-evaluation and letting go is still a beautiful one as always.

    Nice to know some people can still be cynical about movies.

    Reply
  11. David Cruz Author

    This is maybe the boringest movie I've ever seen. It was well made, and I feel the actors did a good job, but the plot was so nothing and it was presented in the most nothing way that I had trouble staying awake. And for a movie that touts realism it really handwaves the anti matter aspect and how in the actual f^÷k do moon pirates stay alive . . . It's the moon, it's not exactly rich in resources.

    Reply
  12. E Cannon Author

    I thought it was really boring, only slightly better than that trash show on Netflix "Another Life". The best parts of this movie were in the trailers. A real yawn fest.

    Reply
  13. Beretta249 Author

    Ad Astra is the anti-Fury Road.

    Ad Astra wants to be smart, but it's dumb. It thinks it's "realistic" but instead it's dull. The supporting cast in unimportant, just about every mistake made by Pitt is so he can be more like his father, and for a 90 minute movie it feels twice as long as it should be. It tells a story where everyone sucks, space is empty of life and therefore unworthy of concern, and, for the first time in a while, the antagonist is a secular obsessive astronaut. Who murders everyone. In the words of a friend it's a sci-fi Classical Literature story wherein everything serves a central point that's ultimately a morality play. It's not concerned with "making sense," it has a single message about sons needing to not be their fathers that it will hammer you with over and over, and nothing else matters so let's do more allegorical brooding about toxic masculinity.

    As expressed by a psychopathic astronaut.

    Using Bible Quotes.

    No one will watch this twice, most of you shouldn't watch it once.

    By contrast Fury Road is a destruction fueled rampage about the need for women to unite everyone against the Patriarchy. Furiosa runs from the Immortan Joe but discovers that truly dealing with his kind of evil means confronting it. Max starts out as Furiosa's enemy, becomes an ally, and ends up her friend. Nux discovers that his apparent reason to die is just a pretense to keep him from wanting to live. The Sisterhood comes back from hiding the wastes after The Green Place dies. The Brides discover that being innocent isn't enough: they have to actively resist. Many good characters die and victory is hard bought, but it's a fantastic film that blazes by in a cloud of sand, fire, and thrashing power metal.

    I'm sure Fury Road is not unique in being so contrastable to Ad Astra but as they are both social justice message movies and one is fun and intense and the other is an onerous, actively sulky Stupid Hamlet (or maybe Othello) I thought the comparison worth making.

    Reply
  14. Ocker3 Author

    I disagree, the movie doesn't say we Shouldn't go to space (in the story they didn't find intelligent life, but they got awesome images and data), but that we need to deal with our own internal shit while we go exploring. I thought the closing monologue went too far, it didn't quite sit right. I liked that he finished with a new psych profile, to counter the starting one, but the final lines didn't 100% work. Too cheesy. Should have dropped the last line.

    Reply
  15. Edward Fryrear Author

    Best part about that intro is I have No idea whether he's gonna recommend this thing or not…
    Side-Note hope this is an IMAX flick I've missed EVERY other Space Movie 'cept "Star Wars TFA"

    Reply
  16. Paul Tamborello Author

    SPOILERS!!! Is it just me or is the last part of the movie just a lie brought on by Pitt's character going insane? First, he starts losing it on Mars after trying to communicate with his father, they recommend he go back to Earth, he fails his psych eval, then he sneaks onto the rocket to Neptune where the whole crew feels threatened enough by Pitt to pull out guns and they all "accidentally" die (leaving Pitt to be the only one to explain what happened, what is displayed on screen I believe is Pitt's character's skewed perception of the event), then once he gets to the LIMA project his father just happens to be alive, convinces the father to leave with him and then the father floats off again leaving Pitt as the only viewpoint (again, we're viewing Pitt's skewed perception, his father would have most likely died, probably the body that suffocated with the bag over their head). Once he gets back to Earth (assuming he actually does and it's not all him imagining the whole thing in his head), his wife miraculously comes back to him despite leaving him for being cold, unapproachable, and obsessed with his job.

    My theory obviously isn't bulletproof (I only saw it once and was often getting drowsy during the showing), but this idea of Pitt's character going insane and we're just watching his distorted view of things stuck with me and convinced me to like the movie despite its flaws.

    Reply
  17. gaber gabe Author

    I went in blind. Alone. I suggest you do the same. Then watch this.

    My old man passed away recently. This film really nailed some of the emotions I’ve been dealing with lately. I’m pretty sure the dude sitting two seats over was coping with the same shit. I heard him sniffling and losing the fight to hold back tears as I did. I lost it. At the same moment in the film. That was cool. Parental absence, continuing a legacy, reunion, dementia and letting go. It’s all there wrapped in an intelligent sci-fi flick.

    Bob’s review is on point. Worth the price of admission.

    Reply
  18. 1carlsworth Author

    I loooove space movies, and anything to do with space- but this was so…ermmm…boring(may not be the right word) … it reminds me of 2001: Space Odyssey – its amazing looking, and feels totally real, but not a lot happens- My girlfriend actually fell asleep, and I was so close to closing my eyes at one point – worth a watch, but after a lot of coffee

    Reply
  19. E Mills Author

    I nearly walked out watching this movie. The random outside conflict was not needed and the outcome too predictable. One of the worst movies I have ever seen.

    Reply
  20. Morbos1000 Author

    I liked the movie and understand that it is largely a metaphor for daddy issues and toxic masculinity… but it really bugs me that there was zero mention or accountability for what happened during the launch of the rocket from Mars to Neptune. All I could think of was the Family Guy episode where Peter burns down a children's hospital as a throw away gag, not mentioned again, then at the very end of the episode Angela tells him he's being arrested for burning down a children's hospital. We needed that here even if it was "you stopped the destructive blasts so we'll sweep that under the rug because we don't want to tarnish the agency's reputation".

    Reply
  21. Gabriel Russell Author

    Well I'm glad they're putting these up sooner so I don't have to deal with the 'Pist's godawful player, but I do want to know what the credits gag was.

    Reply
  22. AlucardaLaCarte Author

    I love JK Simmons as much as the next guy, but Ad Astra is just so great as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man cartoon. Don't know why Brad Pitt's playing him, he was never THAT much of a hunk.

    Reply
  23. AsL0tusFlowers Author

    I saw this movie, and I do not understand the hype. I get what the film is trying to say about the worthlessness of exploring an empty void, and that being an astronaut essentially forces you to be a detached, emotionless loner…but I found this film extremely uninvolving. I didn't feel anything while watching it because I couldn't relate to the characters at all. Even the action scenes were completely lacking in tension. It was a film almost completely devoid of emotion (maybe that's the point?) and it just felt like an empty intellectual exercise.

    Reply
  24. Gareth Thompson Author

    Ad Astra: "There's zero indication that there is anything out there worth finding"

    Me: "There doesn't need to be anything out there worth "finding". I fully agree that the most interesting things in the universe are right here on Earth. But we don't need to find anything interesting to make space exploration worthwhile. Because exploration is not the ultimate point of space travel. Exploration is just the preliminary recon phase to a much bigger project. The goal is to expand our civilization and population to levels that wouldn't even be physically possible to contain here on Earth. To harness the full power of entire stars and, eventually, entire galaxies. To make efficient use of the building materials of entire planets to create living space for septillions of people around billions of stars. The point is to become orders of magnitude more massive and powerful than would have ever been possible otherwise."

    Reply
  25. Alter H. Author

    This was the most boring and robotic delivery of a review I have ever seen. I started to listen just for the spare moments when there was even a hint of inflection in his voice. Snooze!

    Reply
  26. Red B Author

    Its basically a story of Brad Pitt having daddy and abandonment issues and issues with relationships in general, which happens to be set in space, where also
    physics laws doesn't apply.

    If that's what floats your boat, go for it.

    Reply
  27. madattaktube Author

    I was with this film until the 2/3 way mark, then after that, nothing really happened. It tried to pull another 'haha EXPECTATIONS SUBVERTED!' but I felt it was just boring and uninspired, and frankly if the film had ended at the 2/3 mark with all of humanity dying and cut to black, I probably would have liked it more.

    Reply
  28. XZDrake Author

    So here is the thing you hit up just at the end, it is not a fun movie to watch. Its REALLY boring. The reason its boring is that everything that you are told what will happen in advance so nothing is surprising, and the movie ends up feeling like a chore. It's a visually spectacular movie, but its SOO boring and ultimately doesn't have anything interesting to say about space travel or trauma.

    Reply
  29. TheOneAscendedSaiyan Author

    Personally, I'm on the side that says yes space travel has tremendous value in multiple fronts AND that's there's tons of wondrous things on Earth that shouldn't be forgotten

    Reply

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