Author’s Note: This movie had me in a daze leaving the theater, so I’m going to break this review down into bite-size pieces, without giving away the story.
Don’t worry, no spoilers ahead.
For as long as movies have been around, filmmakers have been creating epic tales of space travel. Outer space has always been a vast mystery to mankind, so it’s fitting that we continually try to unravel that mystery through film.
That’s exactly what James Gray attempted in Ad Astra. Did he succeed? Well, that’s the question of the day.
To the Stars
Ad Astra is actually Latin for “to the stars” and that’s precisely where this movie takes us. We are transported through space and time with Roy McBride, played by the one and only Mr. Brad Pitt, on his quest through the galaxies to right the sins of his father (played by Tommy Lee Jones). A story that, even though it’s told from 2.6 billion miles away, is extremely relatable.
The true stars of this movie shine brighter than our sun (I know that’s cheesy, but I saw an opening and I took it).
Back to Brad Pitt: His acting has never been better. This is the performance of his career and is guaranteed to bring in Oscars nods. The magnitude of his depth is staggering and his narrative in an ongoing monologue is the type of acting and writing of which movie dreams are made.
The other truly notable performance comes courtesy of Interstellar alum, Hoyte Van Hoytema. Although his achievement happens behind the camera, it is no less stunning and gratifying. There are subtle references back to Interstellar in the way he plays with flashes of light and extreme close-ups in times of duress (of which there are plenty). The dedication to his craft is clear and evident in every single shot.
The Dark Side of the Moon
“What the hell did we just watch?”– Random patron as we exited the theater
For all the good, amazing, and wonderful things this movie did right, there is one thing that I think (unfortunately) will define it for the masses: it’s atypical, it’s not (in the textbook definition of the word) entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong: artistically, this movie is breathtaking. As a self-diagnosed cinephile, Ad Astra had absolutely everything I wanted to see. But as the theater lights brightened and I stood up from my seat, only one question was on my mind: “Did I like that?“
Now to be clear, Ad Astra does for space movies what Airplane did for slapstick comedies. It was absolutely phenomenal—if you’re looking to be inspired and captured in awe for 90 minutes. However, if you’re looking to be entertained, or if you’re trying to just sit in a dark room for an extended period of time, without having to pay attention to what’s happening on the screen, this is not the film for you.
How can I like a movie and yet not be entertained by it? Let me break it down for you. This film was impeccable artistically, but the entertainment value wasn’t high, save a few high-stress moments at the beginning of the movie and then about three-quarters of the way through, at the ‘climax’. Those moments were probably the only three that had me on the edge of my seat.
In fact, there was a lull (somewhere between Mars and Neptune) that I actually was able to leave the theater, come back, and not miss anything of consequence. To get to the point, Ad Astra is the sort of ‘cerebral sci-fi’ that gets your brain all in a twist.
The downside to that is if it’s not done correctly, you might actually be twisted as to whether the movie was ‘good’ or not. To that effect, without spoiling the movie, James Gray gathered a crew, launched the rocket, broke through the atmosphere into space, and then…you wake up and find out it was just a dream.
The Quest for the Unknown
Space is scary. Let’s just put that out there—a vast nothingness, void of light save the scattering of the cosmos. Yet for decades, we have yearned to travel there, to see what lies on the dark side of the moon. Then, once we conquered the moon, we turned our vision towards further planets and galaxies.
We are constantly questioning our place in the universe. Turns out, maybe we don’t want the answer to that question after all. Ad Astra is perhaps most successful at communicating that concept. Roy travels to where most men have never gone before as James Gray supposes what awaits us at the end of the universe.
In this feat, he shoots for the moon…and lands among the stars.
The Comforts of Home
From the beloved 2001: A Space Odyssey to Matt Damon‘s epic journey in The Martian, we’ve traveled to infinity and beyond with characters created to remind us that there really is no place like home.
This is a film that depicts a strong sense of home far better than most. We move beyond the setting of Earth and find comfort in the little things that tie us to our home. Whether it’s an intergalactic highway, or simply a ‘$5 footlong‘ we feel safe in the familiarity of our everyday lives.
If Ad Astra teaches us anything, it’s simply that no matter how far you travel, no matter what mysteries you seek, you will always yearn for the day when you can come home.
Ad Astra. Ad infinitum. Ad domum.(To the stars. To infinity. To home.)
Matrix Grade: 84