ad astra
20th Century Fox

“The zero G and the extended duration of the journey is affecting me both physically and mentally. I am alone. Something I always believed I preferred. I am alone. But I confess it’s wearing on me. I am alone. I am alone.”

  • Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son — a fearless astronaut — must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge that threatens the stability of the universe.

Ad Astra was one of those movies that I almost never noticed in its initial theatrical run, until one of my surrogate nieces posted to Facebook about her disdain after having watched the movie herself. Boring and pointless, she mentioned it was. So I looked it up, and found out it was a science fiction movie starring Brad Pitt, of all people. Reading the synopsis, I concluded this may be one of those “serious science fiction” movies that a lot of Hollywood A-listers have been making in last couple of decades, like Gravity and Solaris. Sunshine started off like one of those, but then turned into Event Horizon in the last act. But, anyway, I decided to watch this for myself when it came out on streaming rental, just to see what the ire was all about. And…well, let’s just say we’re going to have to agree to disagree there, kiddo.

So, we have an astronaut (Brad Pitt!) that’s working on a really, really long Earth-based antenna, when he gets into a bit of an accident. But, he’s fine. However, the shock wave that caused the accident is the reason why he’s called in by the U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom if you’re nasty). Turns out, this astronaut is the son of a rather famous astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones!) that headed up a deep space mission 29 years prior, to search the furthest reaches of the Solar System in search of some sign of intelligent life. However, nothing’s been heard from him and his team once they reached Neptune, and that was sixteen years ago. And those mystery power surges that threatens all life on Earth? They seem to be originating from the same spot the exposition stopped at. So, the astronaut was chosen to see if his dad’s still alive, and maybe be able to communicate with him at a Mars-stationed base. So, he flies to the moon, meets up with one of his father’s old associate (Donald Sutherland!) and heads out to the SpaceCom base on the moon. However, they’re beset upon by Moon Pirates*, and although they managed to narrowly make it to the base, the elder of the two begins suffering a heart attack and can’t go with him. He then gets in a ship with a bunch of scientists bound for Mars, and everything seems to be smooth sailing from there…until they receive a distress call from a Norwegian biomedical research station, in which they stop by to see if they can help. They encounter a couple of angry space monkeys**, who bite off the face of the Captain. Yadda yadda yadda, everyone who still has a face and is breathing manage to make it to the Mars base, where the astronaut is led to make some transmissions to Neptune, imploring his father to respond. However, he kinda starts ad libbing the script, which gets him kicked off of the project. But, instead of heading home to Earth like a good gov’ment lackey, he instead stows away on the same ship that he came on, because as it turns out, they were headed out to Neptune to try and terminate the derelict vessel his dad may or may not be still alive to stop the power surges. It goes well He inadvertently kills all the scientists pretty much right when he enters the ship as they take off, and now he’s floating around for a few months on his way to Neptune, reflecting on his personal relationships with his father and his estranged wife (Liv Tyler!). He finally makes it to the station, discovers that his father is still alive (the others, not so much), and the power surges causing all of the trouble are coming from the ship’s malfunctioning antimatter power source. Seems daddy has gone a bit loopy, refusing to stop his search for intelligent life beyond them, essentially tells his son that he never loved him or his family and no longer considers Earth his home. His son responds by arming a nuclear device, his dad floats off to become a trans-Neptunian object in a space suit, and Number One Son manages to ride the resulting blast wave back to Earth, where he gets a new lease on life after discovering that the data gathered by his father pointed to Earthlings being the only intelligent life in the galaxy (optimism by nihilism, I guess), and meets his estranged wife for drinks. The end.

Personally, I rather enjoyed Ad Astra. Then again, my expectations were probably a bit different than what a lot of movie watchin’ types would expect from “entertaining sci-fi”. I’m not trying to sound like a snobby nerd, but here we are. I was expecting more of a hard sci-fi movie, which this is; others were maybe preferring sci-fi fantasy? I don’t know, they won’t say beyond “this movie sucks.” For some, that’s their whole review. I tend to need to use more words to express why I think something sucks. And this movie doesn’t suck.

Ad Astra is one of those science fiction movies that moves in a slow, some would say lethargic pace, taking its sweet time with the plot buildup. And this is over two hours in length. So Ad Astra falls squarely in the 2001: A Space Odyssey (or, perhaps closer to Star Trek: The Motion Picture), rather than Star Wars. If anything, outside of some brief action scenes (see “Moon Pirates” and “Space Monkeys”), this is more a big ol’ character study on a nihilistic, emotion-bereft character having himself an existential quandary while staring into the literal void of space, and eventually embracing life after coming to terms with the hopelessness of living itself. And I must say, this movie was very effective in portraying just that.

Overall, it may be that I’m just older and have more insurance have seen more movies like this, and have developed an appreciation for them that my younger self didn’t have the patience for. It’s just that, I find myself in the camp of having enjoyed Ad Astra for what it is, and recommend giving this a watch.

[*you have no idea how much I’ve been waiting to write that]
[**and I’ve been waiting even more to write that one… this is just freaking awesome]