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Ad Astra – Movie Review

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Ad Astra – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Outer space movies tend to fall into a number of categories. The most popular are the space operas, with whiz-bang action and lasers. We also have the ones that show the perils of space for astronauts who choose to venture into the stars. There are the more serious entries that attempt to realistically show what astronauts actually do when they launch off. Finally, there are the ones that use outer space in a more philosophical sense and a way to ponder the mysteries of the universe. Ad Astra definitely falls into the last category. It’s a thoughtful film with a lot of ideas, although the first two acts are more successful than the last section. Director/co-writer James Gray definitely shows his influences, but he makes a solid space movie with a few clever ideas.

The basic premise seems simple at the start, as we find out about the disappearance of Major Roy McBride’s father. The audience is kept purposely vague about what led to this, which is good, and shows Gray respects the viewers’ intelligence to piece things together. Brad Pitt, as Roy, does provide plenty of narration and gives us an idea of his inner thoughts. Not of all his musings are needed, but Pitt portrays Roy as someone rather stoic. His journey is what’s captivating about the story, rather than necessarily the lead protagonist. Gray’s depiction of the future also presents some intriguing ideas about the role easier space travel might play in the human experience.

Gray seems especially interested in exploring terraforming in the first half of the movie. There are a few humourous nods to corporations becoming inescapable and the ways in which the government still becomes a controlling part of people’s lives. These are interesting ideas to explore, although Ad Astra doesn’t touch on them for too long. A special mention should go to production designer Kevin Thompson for crafting space stations that feel lived in and evoke the ideas that interest Gray. The section on Mars is particularly impressive from a visual standpoint, with shades of red shining through dark hallways, courtesy of director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema. Van Hoytema previously shot Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, strengthening the comparisons one might have with that film.

Ad Astra does slow down a tad in the third act. There’s one particular point where the plot starts to get lost under all the larger themes. There is a coldness Gray is attempting, even when showing the relationship between Roy and his father. It’s difficult not to think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, although Ad Astra lacks the classical orchestral feeling or even the dread of Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science-fiction film. Where the film does triumph is in the visual effects, which are simultaneously gorgeous and technically impressive. Every last detail has been refined and special care has especially been taken in portraying gravity properly in outer space.

The movie has a lot of ideas swirling around in its head and many of them are thought-provoking and keeps one’s interest through a good amount of the runtime. It’s more-so near the end when one’s patience starts to be tested. There’s a certain way to do a more slower paced and philosophical space tale and Gray does succeed in creating a decent one. While Brad Pitt isn’t allowed to be his usual charismatic self, he does well in portraying his character’s seriousness as well as emotion, when the occasion calls for it. Even with its coldness, Ad Astra nonetheless presents a decent exploration of the future of space travel.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison