Moon pirates, killer baboons and secret space missions. With all of these action elements, Ad Astra has got to be a killer sci-fi extravaganza, with action busting out of its seams, right? What a surprise that, though we get some thrilling action moments, Ad Astra is a film that is more contemplative and inward-looking. With a standout performance from Brad Pitt and fantastic cinematography, the film creates an amazing sense of being in space.
This is a very good year for Pitt. His performance as Roy McBride in this film is a strong follow-up to his role as Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. It’s safe to say this is Pitt’s film.
In our future, we have colonized the moon and have a base on Mars. We’ve even had astronauts reach the outer planets. Roy’s dad, played by Tommy Lee Jones, was the astronaut who led those missions, but he’s been gone for decades, presumed dead. However, when strange electric surges that could destroy Earth are detected from Neptune, Roy learns that his father may still be alive.
From the movie’s outstanding opening sequence when the first surge hits Earth to the final quiet ending, the story takes us on a journey through the solar system. Beautifully shot, the film helps build tension about being in space with all its dangers and also its loneliness. The movie’s running time hits a tidy two hours, but the slow pacing in the last two acts make it feel longer.
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Ad Astra’s greatest weakness falls on its use of voiceover for exposition. It makes sense, as the film doesn’t rely on large chunks of dialogue, and Pitt handles the voiceover well, but it distances the film’s emotions from us.
What really works with a movie like this is that we can’t guess how it will end. We have to keep watching to know what happens next. Along the way, we watch Pitt’s Roy take not only a billion-mile journey but also learn more about himself. Yes, there are daddy issues at play here, but they feel earned. Pitt’s performance finds ways to show us the hurt and fear that exists in his character.
Ad Astra may not earn love from those looking for more thrilling movie fare, but it deserves a chance for those of us who like something different. And, hey, it has moon pirates.