Film Review: Ad Astra (2019)

Buckle up. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for—Brad Pitt is going to space.

Ad Astra finds Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) thrust into most distant family dispute ever, spanning light years across the planetary system. McBride gets pulled from his Space Command job to pursue a lost project (called the Lima Project) that was headed by his father, famed astronaut H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). The remainder of the film follows Pitt’s character in a journey to confront his father, and through that, the past (or lack thereof) that they had. It’s Apocalypse Now in space, but instead of a crazed Colonel at the end of the Cambodian river, it’s McBride’s crazed dad at the edge of our solar system.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film explores the vastness of space travel while also displaying the bleakness and futility of human space exploration. Set in the future, mankind has colonized Mars and also created a second society on the Moon, but they are still plagued with the same issues humans are prone to doing—overconsumption capitalism, and greed.

The fantastic sets and locations in Ad Astra can awe you and isolate you with its overwhelming dystopian atmosphere. The moon base is a lunar metropolis that houses futuristic commercial space travel, where familiar consumer chains are on full display. The set on Mars has an ominous feel, giving off the impression that humans went too far with its colonization.

The lunar colony in Ad Astra

The base would have been a proud human achievement, but ultimately, it felt unnecessary and abandoned. Neptune, the last planet the film explores, instills a sense of melancholia. As the film delves further away from Earth, each planetary setting invokes a certain mood to parallel McBride’s emotional journey across the stars.

I would advise anyone watching to focus more on the depictions of space, rather than the actors’ somewhat unremarkable performances. While there is nothing inherently bad about any of the portrayals, they were overshadowed by the visuals and set design. Roy McBride is a pragmatic, measured character brought to life by an unassuming performance from Brad Pitt. Part of it is certainly due to McBride’s stoic characterization, but it still ends up being forgettable. The space travel took a large chunk of the screentime, so most supporting characters only make briefly appearances in McBride’s story arc. However, this did add to the character’s feelings of isolation. These feelings were parallel to how secluded his father felt when he was working on the Lima project. Ultimately, the father and son differed in how they responded to isolation in space.

The biggest draws of this movie are the scenes in space, so if there are any plans to re-release this in theatres, see it in the big screen if you can. From the opening scene, it will make you feel part of the scenery. This movie will leave you in awe of our solar system, but also dwelling in the emptiness and emotional vacuum that it entails.