Brad Pitt’s comeback has been long-awaited, and with Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Ad Astra hitting screens within a month of each other it’s clear that he’s well and truly back. It’s a shame that Ad Astra – a film I was hugely looking forward to after the glowing Venice reviews – left me feeling hollow.
Set in the near future, Ad Astra is a lowkey sci-fi presenting itself as realism. Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, an emotionally distant astronaut who, after surviving and remaining calm throughout a life-threatening accident, is enlisted to help on a top-secret mission which involves going to find his AWOL father (Tommy Lee Jones) who is apparently causing deadly blackouts on Earth from a space station on Neptune.
Don’t get too excited about the science – the blackouts are literally never mentioned again and it’s assumed they’re solved by an explosion towards the end. They never get to the bottom of what, why, or how they’re being caused…it’s literally just never addressed. The whole premise is left hanging supposedly for the sake of a life-changing emotional catharsis, except even that rings hollow. The final epiphany of the film is literally the same as the driving force that pushed him to go on the journey in the first place, yet is presented as a twist – something so baffling to experience while watching that I honestly felt like checking if there had been some mistake.
It’s undeniably a visually stunning film, yet with such a bare-bones plot and a one-note emotional arc, the emptiness of space feels just that – empty. Unlike in Gravity when space shots evoke terror and loneliness, and in Interstellar where they evoke yearning and sorrow, Ad Astra misses the mark.
Phenomenal actresses Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler and Natasha Lyonne are criminally underused – dropping some exposition or serving as a wordless wife for Roy to leave and feel bad, and come back to and feel good. It just feels so lazy – as if an early draft simply bullet-pointed the key points in the story, and someone forgot to fill it out with anything of substance.
The best sequences occur early on, where commercial travel to the Moon (with some Virgin Atlantic product placement…surely it should be called Virgin Galactic?), and scenes on a fully populated Moon base complete with DHL and Subway in the airport take place. Scarcity of resources and a run-in with moon pirates foraging for scraps betray hints of what could have been a really meaningful and unique film, but unfortunately we’re forced to sit through a colour-by-numbers daddy issues story instead.
Perhaps the most baffling thing is that Brad Pitt delivers a gritty voiceover throughout the entire 122 minute film, saying out loud everything the character thinks and feels. In case the audience couldn’t glean it from the Psych Evals he has to complete every five minutes, or from his, like, acting.
That’s not to disparage his work at all – Pitt’s performance is actually one of the least distracting things about the movie, but the movie does also contain a feral space baboon and multiple instances of bizarrely casual murder of innocent bystanders, so make of that what you will.
Ad Astra is in cinemas now.