Ad Astra was not what I expected it to be, and sadly, I don’t mean that in a good way. Brad Pitt’s trip to space just didn’t wow me.
From the trailers, I had the general idea of what awaited me when I embarked on the journey that is Ad Astra. Little did I know that this story is actually not about space at all, but about what happens when fathers abandon their sons.
Ad Astra tells the story of Roy McBride, a son who took after his father and ran headfirst into the heavens. Our story begins with a series of power surges threatening life on, around, and under the Earth. It seems that a decades-old top secret mission to our outer solar system has left us vulnerable thanks to that ever unpredictable, sci-fi standby, anti-matter.
But honestly, this story isn’t really about the crisis or the space travel at all. This is a story about a father and son who never got to take the leap into adulthood together because one of them literally shot himself into the stars and planned to never return. Cue all the trauma that comes with being a teenager, abandoned to care for his ailing mother alone while his father chased dreams billions of miles away.
I wanted to love Ad Astra. I wanted to be enchanted by the glories of space travel while diving deep into the emotional journey of Roy McBride, but unfortunately, I never got there. After the bevy of brilliant movies about space travel that have come out in the past few years, this one never finds the right angle. It left me walking out of the theater, wondering how much of this movie could be cut out without changing the narrative in the slightest. I just kept thinking of things that didn’t help me form any emotional attachments to this character, and found it entirely disheartening.
For a movie complete with space pirates, rabid, zero-G animals, and power surges that can strike anywhere, at any time, and can cause complete electronic shutdown, I hardly felt any anticipation or fear that I knew I should have been feeling. It was clear where the movie was taking us, so the perils of space travel never felt real.
For the story this movie was ultimately trying to tell, Clifford McBride could have been anywhere. He could have been a deep sea scientist, an arctic explorer, a geographic warrior who disappeared into the jungles of South America never to be seen or heard from again. It didn’t have to be space.
The most interesting aspect of Ad Astra for me was watching the technological advancements that our society had completed in the near future setting. Traveling to the moon was now a (expensive) tourist attraction. Militaries of the world had outposts on Mars, and traveling there was measured in days, not months. Seeing that a future could exist where space travel isn’t only for uber-committed astronauts and military personnel had me thinking about what the human race could be capable of if we could just stop bickering all the damn time.
I didn’t find myself as moved by Brad Pitt’s role in this movie as I have been by him in the past. Maybe it’s because the emotions broiling under the surface of his character were those of rage, disappointment, and abandonment and I just found it hard to empathize. Pitt does a more than adequate job of leading this movie, but it never soars for me. I wish we had seen more personal interactions for Roy McBride. Everyone he came into contact with in this movie was a new acquaintance, and it left him with no ties to Earth beyond it just being his home planet.
For an original story, Ad Astra definitely has moments of good storytelling. It has moments of grand visual landscapes, and emotional depth, it just never crossed over into great territory for me. I hope this movie finds it’s audience and is appreciated by audiences for decades to come, I just don’t believe it will.
I am, however, totally on board with Hollywood sending former Ocean’s Eleven stars into space. Since George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt have made their treks, can I request Don Cheadle’s space adventure next, please?
Ad Astra is now playing in theaters nationwide.