Is "Ad Astra" one of the best space movies in recent years, or does the movie struggle to balance its arthouse broodings with its action-packed blockbuster sensibilities? Here's what the reviews say.
In 'Ad Astra,' Brad Pitt Is Sent On A Mission To Find His Missing Father
The movie is about how Roy [McBride], played by Pitt as a stoic loner of a 21st-century space cowboy, is sent on an enigmatic mission to Neptune to hunt down his father, a famous astronaut named Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who 30 years before led Earth's first voyage into deep space on a mission known as the Lima Project. Sixteen years into the mission, the ship, along with everyone on it, disappeared; Clifford has never been heard from since. But the power surge that disabled the space antenna was part of a larger destructive surge that's now threatening the stability of the solar system. And guess what? The surge is emanating from the region around Neptune.
In essence, Ad Astra is a father-son story told on a cosmic scale […] Clifford needs to be stopped and who better to do it than his son, setting up an Apocalypse Now in space as junior attempts to save or destroy his nutjob old man.
While Set In Space, The Core Of The Movie Is Its Father-Son Issues
The degree to which our parents shape us, for better and inevitably for worse, is at the heart of "Ad Astra." Written by Gray and Ethan Gross, this is a moody, mournful story of fathers and sons that, like a lot of ambitious Hollywood science fiction, strikes a balance between a harrowing otherworldly trek and a more interior psychological journey.
Comparisons to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now abound, of course […] But Ad Astra also functions as a spiritual sequel to Lost City of Z, a tale of father and son struggling to maintain their sanity in the wilderness. Gray's brooding, Oedipal sensibilities are expanded in scope from the Amazon to man's place in the universe, and it's a genuine thrill to see his intimate, intricate concerns played out over such a vast interstellar stage.
Director James Gray's Take On The Sci-Fi Genre Is Far From Your Regular Sci-Fi Blockbuster
Even with a linear narrative that never slows down, a chase sequence that feels like "Fury Road" on the moon, and a suspenseful vision of the galaxy that makes room for any number of unexpected surprises (beware the claw marks inside a seemingly abandoned spaceship), "Ad Astra" is still one of the most ruminative, withdrawn, and curiously optimistic space odysseys this side of "Solaris."
[P]erhaps the most interesting comparison is with Terrence Malick, particularly The Tree of Life, where Pitt is playing the father and Sean Penn is the grownup son, and the journey – the journey we all make – is into the past, into the treacherous territory of our own memories. It is when Ad Astra becomes disorientating and hallucinatory that it is most Malickian.
For Those Yearning For Spectacle, The Movie Boasts Plenty
For all of Ad Astra's spiritual concerns, however, fans of ambitious space opera will find plenty of visual dazzle to enjoy amongst all the cosmic pop philosophy. The future world of the film is a dangerous place, stepped in a curious '60s retrofuturism and Wild West frontier chaos. The moon is a battlefield, where even a simple rover trip across the wasteland can land you in a harrowing chase with actual moon pirates (in one of the most thrilling, inventively staged sequences in the film).
Visually, it combines the best of Interstellar, Gravity, The Martian, and First Man, with plenty of callbacks to classic space fare like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact,and Solaris.The trick is how effortlessly Gray mixes those references while elevating Ad Astra's visual language with its own identity […] Ad Astra regularly delivers the rush of inventive new ideas on film, from a rover chase over disputed territory on the Moon to a mayday mission that briefly turns into a horror sequence with a truly unexpected endpoint.
Each action scene feels inspired by a classic movie. First Point Break, then Mad Max, then Indiana Jones, then 2001. And yet, to add yet another dash of originality, all of those high-octane scenes feel slightly understated because they're seen through Roy's point of view, which is always very demure and relaxed. The juxtaposition of wow set pieces with grounded elements and characters is yet another way Ad Astra distinguishes itself.
… Though Plot-Wise, It Drags On A Little In The Latter Half
The closer that [Roy] McBride gets to his goal, the more abstract the story becomes and the more uninteresting.
By the time Roy reaches the end of his journey (and I will certainly not reveal where it ends or what he finds there), Ad Astra has been sleepwalking for nearly an hour. I confess I needed a cup of strong tea to stay alert through the back half. And this is coming from a turgid-pessimism-loving cinephile who has seen the 1972 Solaris twice in theaters.
From the very beginning of the film, it's obvious Gray is interested in more than taking the audience on a deep space adventure. Roy's omniscient narration, as well as his frequent psychology checks, make that clear. But throughout, those bigger thematic strands get lost in the dynamic narrative. By the time the film reaches its climax and Gray's intentions get stated loud and clear, it's almost as if they've been tacked on, even though they obviously weren't.
Those Seeing The Movie For Pitt Though Won't Be Disappointed — He Delivers One Of His Best Performances In Years
A hard turn from his smirkily engaging Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt manages to imbue his character with man-of-action stoicism and open-wound fragility.
People have rightly championed his work in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but Brad Pitt's best performance of 2019 is in Ad Astra.
It's a good thing, too, because Ad Astra is mostly a one-man show — there's a number of other actors […] but Pitt's onscreen for almost the entirety of the film. Even as he continues to cut an extremely handsome figure, Pitt's work here suggests that he hasn't lost his ability to be one of the most exciting, daring actors of the last 40 years.
Another introspective but immaculately crafted adventure epic from the director of "The Lost City of Z," "Ad Astra" is an awe-inspiring film about the fear of male vulnerability and the fait accompli of becoming your own father — whomever he might be[.]