Mission To Neptune: Ad Astra
Man's exploration of places beyond Earth could potentially be catastrophic for their home planet in Ad Astra. Set at a time in the future, Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, an Air Force Major who agrees to help the military investigate the energy surges that have heavily damaged the resources of the American Space Command forces. McBride learns that the surges originate from a spaceship whose crew was a part of the Lima Project, sent into space when Roy was still a boy. Their mission was to determine if life existed elsewhere. Scientists had stopped receiving communication from Lima years earlier, but military brass believes that Roy's father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who commanded the mission, may still be alive and bent on destruction. They want Roy to try and reason with Cliff, and team the younger McBride with Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), who'd flown on other missions with Roy's father. The plan involves them heading from the Earth to the moon. A confrontation on the moon, however, leaves Pruitt unable to continue. Roy, though, catches a shuttle to Mars with another crew. They get word of another ship in trouble along the way, but attempts to find any living people unsuccessful.
On Mars, McBride gets detained after sending his father a message that openly affects him. In a secluded room, Roy speaks with Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga), who shows him some classified information about the Lima Project. Helen, like Roy, has a personal interest in Lima, for her parents were part of Cliff's crew. When the crew felt their mission was accomplished, they met opposition from Cliff. When they tried to abandon ship, Cliff cut off their life support. Helen and Roy agree that he should finish the job he was sent to do. She gets him to a secret passage to the ship with the crew that brought him. Before he goes, Helen tells Roy details about the final leg of the journey that he didn't know.
Ad Astra, a Latin term that means "to the stars," is an entertaining look at the danger of space travel. Director and co-writer James Gray not only shows the obvious perils of space travel, but he also shows the danger isolation can bring. Confrontation in such an environment tends to end quickly and decisively. For example, when Roy and another astronaut answer a distress signal, they encounter an agitated orangutan, and Roy realizes one or the other must die to end the primate's threat. As he heads to Neptune, Roy is often left alone with his thoughts, many of which involve his estranged wife, Eve (Liv Tyler), and the things which caused their rift. Cliff, too, has spent years living with his decisions, as well as the knowledge he hasn't shared about the Lima Project. Some have likened Ad Astra to an outer space version of Apocalypse Now - and with good reason, given the severity of the situation. I also saw elements of Gravity in this film, as Roy and others much deal with the space elements that can bring their journey to an end. The movie, though, doesn't explain how Roy seems to reach his destination in a time frame that seems very quick by current standards.
Pitt has the primary responsibility of carrying this film, and he does a very good job. As opposed to his tough, but friendly and outgoing, character in Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood, Roy is necessarily tough, but he's more subdued. He has to have a clear head for the mission, with emotions in the back of his mind. He wishes the reunion with his father were an amicable one, but he has to face the reality that might not happen. Roy also makes the effort to save his fellow travelers, including his attempt to repair a colleague's damaged helmet with duct tape. Jones is good in support as Cliff, who has lived with a form of space madness. He's held many of Lima's results to himself, and may not be responsible for the surges Roy was sent to stop. Sutherland and Negga essentially appear in extended cameos, but offer fine support as well.
At this point in time, man still debates and seeks answers regarding the existence of life in other places. In Ad Astra, man seems to have come to a definitive conclusion. The problem is that conclusion may have fatal ramifications for mankind. A man with some inside knowledge about a mission's last potential survivor may be the key to saving the world from some of the mission's consequences. Civilization should not have to pay the ultimate price for the natural curiosity about what's out there.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Ad Astra three stars. Looking to avoid the eternal starry night.