Film / Theatre Reviews

Ad Astra


Science fiction has undoubtedly been a bit lacking in quantity and quality in recent years, and so you could be forgiven for getting excited after watching the trailer for Ad Astra, the latest from The Lost City of Z‘s James Gray, which translates from Latin as ‘To The Stars’. And it is indeed very impressive on the visuals and production front, especially with the stunning opener and its ‘space antenna’ scene. But once we get into the thick of the film’s story, with its space noir, whodunnit feel, it turns rather predictable, possibly hollow and scientifically ridiculous. An all-star cast couldn’t save this one.

Man of the moment Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, a US Air Force Major and astronaut who is given a mission to travel to Neptune to find his out-of-contact father (Tommy Lee Jones) and figure out the origin of a powerful and highly destructive, electro-magnetic style pulse that’s hitting the earth from the same region. While on this journey, Roy ends up questioning many of his past decisions, especially concerning his now ex-wife (Liv Tyler) and how well he really knows his father.

The first half of Ad Astra is thoroughly entertaining. There are astounding visuals and production values, a nice bit of action involving space buggies on the moon, along with a sense of mystery and intrigue. But then the space monkey scene arrives… From this point onwards, it comes off like heavily funded twaddle, dressed like something profound but ultimately lacking substance and realism. Especially concerning its premise, which is so far from what is being discovered about the potential for extraterrestrial life. Also, if you like even a bit of effort put into making space travel and doing spacewalks plausible, avoid this completely. At one point McBride ‘flies’ through an asteroid field.

The supporting cast, that includes Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones and Liv Tyler, are wasted. They seem to be garnish for Brad Pitt to narrate and act himself into this ‘profound’ role that turns kind of farcical. This is mostly down to the screenplay; there’s a genuinely funny scene when Pitt is thinking about how he wronged his ex-wife and it jumps from a flashback to him rolling in his bed moaning “I was so selfish”. Liv Tyler does next to nothing but look like a scorned woman. Sutherland and Jones have very small roles that don’t amount to a big lot. There’s just so much that is silly about this movie and yet it takes itself oh so seriously.

What makes Ad Astra watchable is the spectacle of it all; the special effects, the representation of technology, and the outer space visuals that NASA provided. They truly are remarkable on the big screen. But, for me, there’s was just too much bad science and ropey writing to take this film seriously as a credible sci-fi movie. And they have tried so, so hard to do just that, making it even sillier in the process. Kev Lovski

Ad Astra is out on wide release.