Ad Astra launched into cinemas this week, offering a surprisingly serious and self-reflective take on the near-future sci-fi film. In it, Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, a closed off astronaut, tasked with trying to contact his father, who on a voyage to Neptune, has been missing and presumed dead for the past sixteen years.
In the films opening minutes, opinions will be divided. We are treated to a tense space-set disaster, hints at marital problems and questioning of life choices. This is not a traditional sci-fi film, and has already drawn countless comparisons to both Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and rightfully so. This is a slow burner, with 2001’s influence smeared over almost every frame. It is also chalk full of internal monologues, with Pitt’s character vaguely commenting on life mistakes and internal struggles through near all of its two hour run-time. Although without it like the film would have suffered a lull, the narration can be overly expositional, without there ever being any physical representation of what we are being told.
Regardless of the style of narration, the story plods along at a nice rate, moving simply from one place to another. Whilst doing so, it offers some clever and interesting world-building, with the likes of a gaunt Mars-born woman, starved of sunlight, or the commercialisation of flights to the Moon. Soaking in the tidbits of information and working out this near-future as it was shown, was incredibly entertaining. However, these quieter moments were drawn away from by clumsily placed action scenes. Beside the opening scene, any moment of action could have been removed without consequence to the story. Whether this was another case of studio interference, sweating over the idea of there being no explosions to draw more people in, is another thing to be seen. Nonetheless, these action scenes, felt wildly out of place.
Something that never detracted however, was Pitt’s performance. Although closed off and stoic, similar the Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong this year, Pitt lets the perfect amounts of emotion through to tell the audience that it is all there, bubbling underneath the surface. A single tear running down the cheek of an unflinching face, was among the most emotional moments of the film. Pitt shows once again, that he has the versatility and capability to be a leading man.
Ad Astra isn’t as mesmerising as 2001, as engaging as Apocalypse Now, or even as stunning as the more recent Interstellar, yet it is all of those things. It feels at times that it may be a bit conceited, yet still leaves a want for more serious bigger-budgeted sci-fi movies, and an intrigue that will leave it lingering in your mind long after leaving the cinema.