With all the hype surrounding Ad Astra you’d be forgiven for thinking it was full of stars, not about them. As it is, writer/director James Gray (“Lost City Of Z”, “The Immigrant”) doesn’t have a bad list to use.
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood“, “War Machine“) is Roy McBride, an all American god-damn hero and astronaut whose father, H. Clifford McBride, Tommy Lee Jones (“The Fugitive”, “No Country For Old Men”), was an even bigger hero, or so he thinks.
When McBride is called into a secretive meeting with his US army bosses, he discovers that his father may be alive after all, many, many years since he was last seen on Earth.
Clifford was given a crew and ship and sent to the furthest reaches of our solar system, to Neptune, with an experimental, and somewhat unstable dohicky, designed to try and find ET.
When strange power surges begin hitting Earth, one of which presents an amazing opening scene as McBride climbs over a massive aerial, towering over the Earth, that begins to explode, the government put two-and-two together and reach the conclusion that this experimental, unstable dohicky has gone wrong, and Clifford is behind it all.
They need McBride to send a message to his father, dissuading him from continuing with whatever it is he’s doing. To send this message, McBride must first travel to the Moon, and then on to Mars.
Inevitably, the message doesn’t work and so a ship is commandeered, a crew hastily thrown together, to find Clifford and destroy his ship. By this point it’s all too much for McBride who has begun to lose a marble or two.
With the help of a nice woman on the Mars base, Ruth Negga (“Warcraft: The Beginning“, “World War Z”), McBride smuggles himself on board the ship, that doesn’t go very well and he ends up alone for the nearly three-month journey to meet the father he thought dead. His mental state takes even more of a hit, but find his father he does.
Ad Astra is a tale of two halves. The first hour is excellent, some great use of IMAX and some great acting on display from Pitt and Donald Sutherland (“The Hunger Games”, “Men In Black 3“) who is his minder.
The trip Gray takes us, and Pitt, on, first to the Moon then onto Mars is superb. The Moon is a no-man’s land. A designated ‘safe-zone’ has been established within which Virgin Atlantic fly into and you can buy a Wendy’s and other such Earthly goods.
But stray and you face being attacked by pirates, out for resources and whatever else they can get their hands on. This McBride finds out for himself as, on route to where their rocket is set to take them on to Mars, they come under attack from pirates.
Mars meanwhile is a desolate place, most people live underground and mood stabilising rooms exist that play videos of the sea, birds and sunshine. This is designed to help you get through the constant psychological evaluations McBride has to perform, think Blade Runner 2049 and you’re there.
The second half of the film is less successful. This is where McBride Junior begins to unravel, where he discovers McBride Senior, who has already unravelled, where science and logic are stretched too far and where it all gets a bit Hollywood.
There’s a scene in which Pitt pulls a piece of metal of his father’s ship and, utilising a conveniently located spinning radar on top of the ship, launches himself through the rings of Neptune, using the metal as a shield, arriving exactly at his own ship.
I mean, sure, why not? Then there’s riding the nuclear explosion back to Earth because, sure, why not? Or the attack by pirates which seems to put Pitt and co on a better course than their original one anyway?
Ad Astra is a good film, it is a great spectacle with echoes of Moon, 2001, Blade Runner and more, all mushed together. But equally it’s long, too long, and the constant voice-over from Pitt, expounding about everything from war to consumerism to philosophy, becomes tiring, quickly, and that ending missed the stars by a long way.
19th September 2019
THE QUICK SELL
Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe