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'Ad Astra': A Fanboy Reviews

The latest space epic to grace IMAX Screens

By Sam GamblePublished 5 years ago 5 min read

Ad Astra follows Brad Pitt's Roy McBride as he attempts to navigate a near-future solar system to retrieve his father from the outer reaches, stopping off at multiple human outposts along the way.

People have been praising this film for its understated story, scientific accuracy, and stellar visual effects, but do I share these opinions? Let's jump in.

Let's start by saying that, yes, this film is gorgeous. I personally didn't see it this way, but this feels built for IMAX screens. Its sense of scale, the way it shows the vastness of Space, pitch perfect lighting all feel tailor-made for those screens. The visual effects are outstanding, and this is one of the few times I've really noticed imperfections on the 'lens' for these shots, especially in the opening sequence. Dust and scratches are here, and really push the reality and the enormity of the surroundings in this movie.

Where the script helped sell the vastness of this was time. This movie is definitely a slow-burner, we don't have access to hyperdrives (yet, at least) in this universe. If you want to get to the outer reaches of the solar system, you have to sit, in a small space, on your own, and just... wait. Whether or not our character is with a small crew, or on his own when he finally sets off by himself, you sit with them, and that's where the characterisation and these actors really shine through.

Brad Pitt is a stand-out in this film. From a dialogue perspective, he doesn't have much to work with, and I've seen some criticisms saying that his character is very one-note. At the beginning of the film, you're told his pulse has never exceeded 90BPM or something like that since he started working in space. For some, plus the way he doesn't really seem to have any regrets, including leaving his wife, this could be enough to make people switch off from him, and whilst I do sympathise with that to a degree, the journey this character goes through on an emotional level throughout this film, I think, brings him back into the realm of likability.

A fact that is massively helped by Pitt's performance. He carries a certain gravitas in every scene he's in. Even when he's not in control, you can often see the cogs working, going "ok, how am I going to get around this?" There's never really a moment where he gives up, which is extremely commendable, given the situation. When the father is brought into the mix as well, you can almost see the point where McBride stops thinking with his head and acts emotionally.

That brings me nicely to Tommy Lee-Jones. He's not in the movie much, probably only about half an hour, and his placement and involvement in the film's plot is very back heavy, so I can't say too much, however I can say that I think this is his most vulnerable performance. He's the sort of actor who usually opts for the more masculine roles in what I've seen him in, but here he's much more frail, older, and unhinged in just the right way that he balances out Pitt when they finally share the stage together.

I will say, however, that I think his character is a little bit betrayed in the grand scheme of things. Everything that happens to him happens before we meet him in the flesh. We get a couple of video diaries here and there, but for the most part, you're simply told what he did, how he did, what impact it had on humanity's development in space. You never really get to see it, and even at the end, most of what Lee-Jones is given ultimately results in inaction. The set dressing around his character is almost video-game levels of great environmental story-telling, but I still think a few more minutes with some more emotion and more action on his part would've helped to sell his character.

In the end, I think the biggest let down of this film is the script. Characters come and go too quickly. You meet Donald Sutherland's character, then he disappears. You have a crew of five to accompany you, they don't make it. You meet a colony of people on Mars, they are on screen for less than ten minutes. This script really wants to tell Roy's story, and it's commendable to stick to that. It would be really easy to give him a crew that he can talk to, and stop the insanity of being alone sinking in so quickly, however what that creates is a culture of expendable characters, almost to the point where you begin to not care about anyone as soon as they enter a scene, because they might vanish in five minutes never to be seen again.

This movie also has a couple of goofy moments that I just couldn't get by. These are slight spoilers, so stop reading, but everyone that I've spoken to remembers two scenes from this film; the car chase on the Moon, and the monkey attack on the abandoned ship. We're treated to a commercial flight to the moon, where I think quite possibly the only joke in the entire movie is contained, and then after that we take a humvee to the dark side of the moon. On that journey, the team are attacked by who else than Moon Pirates. From this point, I struggled with the tone of this film. When you introduce these people, and actively refer to them as pirates, you expect a certain level of self-awareness, saying "yeah, this is a little goofy, but it's fun." This film does not. And just like the groups of characters before, they are never seen again.

This, and the scene with the cannibalistic howler monkeys pushed this film a little too far from its realistic groundings. I get that everything had an in-universe reason to be the way it was, but there are some concepts that reminded me of Firefly in a weird way that feel a little out of place, and really pulled me out of the movie. If this movie had a little more levity to it, then these moments would probably work and not be blinked at, but their inclusion in something that takes itself as seriously as this film does feel disjointed.

But putting those moments aside, this is a solid-thriller, filled with great performances and visuals. The direction from James Gray is outstanding, there's just a couple of decisions on a scriptwriting level that, for me personally, didn't work as well, but this is still great.

I'd say this film is an eight out of ten for me.

movie review

About the Creator

Sam Gamble

Film reviews, movie-making articles, and more. Follow a fanboy's journey in exploring pop culture and everything else around it.

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