AD ASTRA – Sexy Looking Cinematic Valium

AD ASTRA or TO THE STARS in Latin is the latest science fiction to grace our screens. It also has the bonus of starring Brad Pitt, whom most of us could watch while he reads the back of cereal boxes. It is receiving rave reviews around the world for it’s psychological drama angle and many critic friends of mine love it. AD ASTRA drops today in cinemas from the wonderful folks at 20th Century Fox. I cannot thank them enough for the wonderful screening in Gold Class.

AD ASTRA is rated M and runs for 122mins – buckle in and enjoy my review…….all the best……Salty.

Ad Astra Brad Pitt image
Brad Pitt

BY JASON KING

AD ASTRA SYNOPSIS:

The film starts with Roy McBride (Pitt) on a space walk/ climb on the giant Earth Antenna. Deadly energy blasts known as “The Surge” are threatening human life and the first one that hits is during this walk. It is high octane as we see Pitt fall and start plummeting to Earth. From space climb to fall, to eventual parachute emergency Earth landing it’s all very awesome to watch on the big screen. A lot of people died during the surge and as Pitt recovers he is called in to Space Comm.

The Surge is coming from Neptune, and it appears McBride’s father (Tommy Lee Jones), the Commander of an Exploration Ship, who has been missing (presumed dead) for a very long time is potentially still alive and possibly causing the surge. Space Comm wants to send McBride to the Moon, now a commercialised space port on the bright side and a pirate thirsty Mad Max-esque deterioration on the dark side of the moon (cue Pink Floyd), to send a message via laser radio to his father to see if he can get him to talk and find out what the hell is causing all the deaths and The Surge.

This doesn’t go as planned and in the most non-spoiler way possible McBride needs to head to Neptune to reconnect and resolve his daddy issues and/or destroy his spaceship causing The Surge and thus save humankind.

Ad Astra Donald Sutherland, Brad Pitt and Sean Blakemore image
Donald Sutherland, Brad Pitt and Sean Blakemore

I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND THE GUSHING LOVE FOR THIS FILM:

AD ASTRA sounds like it could be a wonderful edge-of your-seat science fiction action film. The second trailer released surely tried to cash-in on that angle by only showing the one edge-of-your-seat action sequence. The first rover chase scene on the moon. The film has some moments of action brilliance but instead its main focus is on the psychological drama of a man who has given his life to follow in his father’s footsteps. It is monotonic in its delivery and, for me, was one of the single most boring films I have seen this year. I struggled to keep my eyes open and actual critics in my screening caught up on some shut-eye.

I didn’t get to know my father and haven’t heard from him in 42yrs so perhaps I miss the father/son bond thing but I just didn’t get how this somewhat cliche justified the main angle of the film. Surely the end of Earth? The crimes committed in space? The Commercialised Moon and so on justified more screen-interest. But instead it gets more and more insular as we watch McBride (Pitt) unravel and revert to a teenage boy missing his father. Yawn.

Ad Astra Brad Pitt image
Brad Pitt

A LITTLE APOCALYPSE NOW, A LITTLE 2001:

AD ASTRA has some APOCALYPSE NOW influence with McBride having to get a long way from comfort to salvage or terminate his father. But Tommy Lee Jones is no Brando on an endless drug binge into insanity. It is also aiming for a 2001 vibe by making the film more about the inside instead of the outside. It mostly fails at both.

Director James Gray stated AD ASTRA will feature “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.” He’s also described it as “Sorta like, if you got ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘2001’ in a giant mash-up and you put a little [Joseph] Conrad in there.” But then he has a shoot-em-up car chase on the moon and gives an astronaut a shield to fly headlong through an asteroid belt in nothing but a space suit.

There is so many items that adhere to how I/we believe Space Travel will work but then there is so much you have to take with a grain of salt because the shallow father/son cliche is the most important part of the film. Also, how on Earth would any Space Command in the future allow someone as old as Donald Sutherland into Space?

VISUALLY SUPERB:

Grievances aside AD ASTRA is just stunning to watch. The visuals in Space, on the Moon, around Neptune are amazing. The zero gravity inside the space shuttle, the primate scenes, that space antenna and Earth drop – all wonderful. But the sum of the amazing parts does not amount to a complete package of wonder. Well, not for this critic anyways.

Ad Astra Tommy Lee Jones image
Tommy Lee Jones

AT LEAST BRAD’S STILL GORGEOUS:

There is a LOT of Brad Pitt in this film. He is a wonderful actor who I adore. I much preferred his performance in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD this year however. He delivers this role so understated it is being applauded around the world. There is some clear unravelling going on but I found it quite lost in places, I watched Pitt but I wasn’t cerebrally connected with the character on his deteriorating journey. But Pitt has this thing; besides being stunning to look at, we have seen him in so many films that we will just follow him anywhere. I was happy to see him in AD ASTRA but he deserved more than this film.

Same with Tommy Lee Jones, his part was too small and didn’t have enough impact for me when his big scenes arrived. And I love me some Donald Sutherland but it was like he couldn’t do more than a quarter of the film and then just left for the same reason I brought up about someone that old being on a space mission!! There was literally no need for him to be in the movie unless we were going to get a SPACE COWBOYS reunion.

Liv Tyler was the quintessential pointless supporting wife of the lead man. A terrible waste of such an amazing actor.

Ad Astra Brad Pitt image
Brad Pitt

IN CONCLUSION:

I had a lot of high hopes for AD ASTRA – who doesn’t want to see a Brad Pitt-in-space movie? But its daddy issues outweighed the joy and endless possibilities of space and it turned itself into a snoozefest valium overdose. Something most critics are loving but I couldn’t wait for it to end. And this is from a sci-fi loving geek!

JK’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.

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