Ad Astra (2019) Movie Review
James Gray and Ethan Gross
Have the September movie doldrums got you down while you wait for Joker? Have the hordes upon hordes of white people crashing the box-office in Twilight-like droves to see Downton Abbey made you afraid to go to the movie theater? Well, I can’t do anything about rabid Downton Abbey fans –
They frighten me. I’ve never seen so much crumpet-and-corset cosplay in my life. I thought I was attending a lecture on colonialism.
-but what I can do is recommend the excellent space drama Ad Astra. For those of you who’ve always wanted to see Brad Pitt in a powder blue jumpsuit while wearing a helmet, this is the movie for you. For those of who’ve always wanted to visit space but suck at math and can only visit vicariously through movies, this is the movie for you.
- But what if I want to see a lot of people get killed?
Then the new Rambo or Downton Abbey may be more your cup of tea.
Rambo fans frighten me less than Downton Abbey fans. I think I’ll see Rambo.
I don’t care. I’m trying to do an Ad Astra review.
I know what you’re thinking. Why should you see yet another Brad Pitt movie after sitting through Once Upon a Time in Hollywood back in July? The answer is because it’s a very good movie and, as you’ve seen from the trailers, couldn’t be more different from OUATIH.
Ad Astra opens in the very near future. In this future we can take commercial flights to the moon and a pillow and blanket combo costs $125 (that’s really in the movie).
Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut. He likes to be alone. How do you know he likes to be alone? Because in constant voice-over he repeatedly states that he likes the solo nature of space and would do just about anything to avoid dealing with people for very long. It’s cost him his marriage to Eve (Liv Tyler).
Despite the divorce and the people in his life he’s alienated (by starring in By the Sea), it seems to suit Roy just fine.
Roy is on the International Space Station contemplating cleaning products and why The Tree of Life was so long when he hears an explosion. Part of the ISS is destroyed and some Roy’s fellow astronauts fall to their deaths.
Before Roy can be ecstatic because that means he has fewer people to talk to, another explosion occurs and Roy sees what looks like a wave of light pulse through the ISS. Roy jumps off the ISS and swan dives toward the Earth’s atmosphere.
By a miracle of miracles and because we’re only 15 minutes on the movie, Roy’s parachute opens, he lands on a giant bouncy castle during Donnie Wilkerson’s 8th birthday and manages to survive. A couple of Donnie’s party guests are trampled to death, but it’s fine because Roy is still alive and that’s all that matters.
Body count- dead astronauts-9, dead party guests- 14 (including Benjamin Holford but that’s okay because Donnie hated him), surviving astronaut that looks like Brad Pitt- 1.
Roy’s perpetual voice-over wonders why he’s still alive. Now he has to deal with more people. You wonder why nobody wants to hang out with him.
Well, someone wants to hang out with him. It’s the higher-ups at SpaceCom (what NASA is called now, I guess). Even though he *just* fell from space and somehow lived, they now have a mission for him.
This better be important. Roy has so much voice-over to do.
SpaceCom brings Roy to a top secret room to give him a top secret mission. It turns out those pulses were coming from Neptune. Those pulses have been getting stronger over the past couple of weeks. If those pulses expand and get closer to Earth, it could mean the end of the Earth, the end of the solar system. Donnie Wilkerson will be burnt toast before his 8th birthday.
I just got an invite to Donnie Wilkerson’s sleepover next weekend. I don’t want the world to end.
You’ll just have to be at Donnie Wilkerson’s die-over if Roy can’t complete his mission.
Possible Body Count- everybody.
What is Roy’s mission exactly? Good that you asked, because now would be a good time to posit some important backstory that may explain some of Roy’s issues.
Roy McBride is the son of the world-renowned astronaut hero Cliff McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Yes, I did. We all did because we saw the trailer.
Cliff was entrusted with a mission (code named Lima) to find intelligent life on other planets. All he had to do was abandon his family and go into deep space for about a decade. It turned out longer than that. You’re surprised that Roy’s not pole-dancing in Hustlers he’s got so many daddy issues.
Roy assumed his father died in space. SpaceCom tells him that may not be true. Cliff may still be alive. Cliff’s top secret mission may be the cause of the pulses from Neptune.
Roy needs to put on his space pants and go to the moon to send an encrypted message to dear old not-dead dad so they can prevent Armageddon. No one needs a bad Liv Tyler/animal cracker movie when they can have a good Liv Tyler movie.
Will Roy get his message to dad in time? And does Cliff even want to stop the pulses?
The answer is you should really watch the movie. Donnie Wilkerson is depending on you.
What Works With Ad Astra
- This is a drama, but director James Gray (The Lost City of Z, We Own the Night), stages some short but effective bursts of action between Roy’s endless voice-over. They do somewhat take you out of the movie, but it’s a welcome change from all the navel and star gazing
- Brad Pitt’s second best performance of 2019. You get where Roy’s coming from in every frame, mostly with a slight change in facial expression. With a capable director, you forget what a good actor Pitt is. His arc is familiar, but Pitt is never less than believable and empathetic.
- The first pulse sequence on the ISS is one of the best sequences of 2019. We’ve all seen scenes of destruction in movies before, but you’ll be hard-pressed to remember if you’ve seen anything like this. A perfect marriage of special effects and human emotion.
What Doesn’t Work With Ad Astra
- Liv Tyler is wasted in the “wife” role as Eve. I know this is Roy’s story but you could have given her more than 6 or 7 words. Not lines. Words. If I write another sentence this paragraph will be longer than Liv Tyler’s part.
- Parts of the 3rd act drift and languish as nothing of any importance moves the story for about 15-20 minutes. At a time when we should be pulsing forward to the climax, the film stalls. Fortunately the payoff is worth it.
Ad Astra is the second best Brad Pitt film you’ll see this year. See it opening weekend and you will get a free trip to space.