Ad Astra – Snap Review

Rating: 7

*Spoiler Warning*

It’s hard not to leave Ad Astra just a little disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. Ad Astra was reaching for a bar that it couldn’t quite set, let alone maintain, but that it was reaching was clear from the start, and admirable in itself. When Transformers and Avengers are defining the baseline of what we’re calling Science Fiction, Ad Astra takes its cues from an interesting mix of Interstellar and Tree of Life. Pitt and Jones are both solid, if slightly out of place. Star Fatigue sets in quickly for me these days, and nearly everyone you’ll meet in Ad Astra, you’ve seen in a dozen other roles already. I’m supposed to buy that Cliff Booth is going to become an astronaut, married to the girl from Empire Records? Ok, just saying, seeing the same 12 golden boys and girls in every movie strains my suspension-of-disbelief-muscles. There are plenty of fresh faces, and surely a bunch of them would make more convincing astronauts than Pitt. He’s a great actor, seriously, no doubt, but along with Jones, played against type here. In hard sci-fi, scientists should be scientists. Which is where Ad Astra primarily goes wrong, pushing Pitt’s Roy McBride into multiple odd action sequences, that by and large don’t quite work. I dig the pissed-off lab monkeys that take over the outpost, and the *idea* of moon pirates is cool, but straight up, boarding a rocket during launch, through the launch tube, is suicide, and makes for almost as ridiculous a scene as when McBride cuts through the rings of Neptune with a Hulk jump and a scrap-metal shield. That last one veers into Gravity territory, for its complete abandonment of any semblance to real space physics, and ensures you won’t leave the film satisfied at anything much more than a comic book level. Yet it’s definitely not an entire miss. I love that the action is almost entirely environmental. We never learn the full stories of the moon pirates, because there is no big conspiracy, just a world that’s big enough to hold a bunch of stories crossing paths. Or almost big enough, anyway. The Gilliam-esque monologues and flashbacks are almost effective enough to make me care about the characters, who are actually refreshing in their dryness otherwise. McBride is prized for his ability to never lose his cool, as constantly measured by his heartbeat and psych evals, and it’s refreshingly consistent then, when in the heat of almost crashing their shuttle on reentry, he doesn’t once raise his voice, just steadily repeating, “Go to manual. Go to manual,” to the pilot that is out of his depth. So props should also go out to the effects here, by MPC, as they are practically flawless. We’re just spoiled enough to take them for granted, but they are epic and often original, in truth. The effects get a 9.5, the movie gets a 6.5, so there’s where we get to 7. Director James Gray knows well enough to keep the sounds muted in space, and I do have to appreciate the rarity of that. If Ad Astra had been bold enough to keep that eye for detail and consistency throughout, it could have been awesome. When Pitt goes through much of the movie with an opaque gold sun visor down over his space helmet, obscuring his movie star looks, I start to think they might be prizing the story over the marketing. But for every moment like that, there is a reminder that in nearly all of the promotional art it’s just star power to the max, and that is ultimately where Ad Astra comes out. It’s good, but too studio-calculated, scientifically literate, to maybe 11th grade. Bold enough to suggest a universe where mankind is completely alone, but typical enough to add a pirate chase on the moon (because who would be entertained by just being on the moon? “Let’s blow it up!” “Great idea, Chip. That’s why you’re our go-to guy”). They set out for the stars, sure, but they ended up going mad and homicidal pretty early on. If you’re a hungry sci-fi fan, you’re going to enjoy it, just don’t expect to get any further than Neptune.

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