‘Ad Astra’ is Not a Space Movie

Brad Pitt in Ad Astra

To the stars.

The latin phrase Ad Astra has significant meaning in James Gray’s space odyssey starring Brad Pitt. Ad Astra is not your typical “lost in space” movie. Visually stunning (the cinematography is literally out of this word), the film is about what it means to be alone and human in this vast universe. It explores how loneliness affects the human condition and human relationships – in this case, the relationship between father and son.

Ad Astra takes place in the not-so-distant future where space travel is as common as present day air travel. Earthings can take a commercial rocket to get to the moon, which is now a wonderland for tourists. Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is a highly respected astronaut who struggles to balance his personal life and his career. Roy is picked by the U.S. Space Command to go on a top-secret mission through space to send a message to his father, legendary astronaut H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).

H. Clifford McBride has been presumed dead for decades after he and his crew never returned from a mission called the “Lima Project.” The project was a journey through space – going further than any human has gone before – in search of intelligent life in the cosmos. SpaceCom reveals to Roy that they believe his dad to be alive and the person causing the mysterious energy surges that have been wreaking havoc across the globe. After Roy learns that his father is not the hero and pioneer everyone thinks he is, Roy must travel to the planet Neptune to find forgiveness for his father and ultimately himself.

Brad Pitt is the sole star of Ad Astra. We’re in his head throughout the entire movie through Roy’s storytelling of both things going on around him and his reactions to them. The voice-over narration is incredibly intimate; at times, I felt like I was being lulled to sleep to the sounds of YouTube’s most excellent ASMR videos.

The pacing of the story felt strange. There are space pirates and killer monkeys that disappear as quickly as they are on-screen with no explanations or reasoning. These plot-points felt unfinished and so out of place, you wonder if you’re watching a movie or dozing off into a fever dream. Sometimes even feeling like experimental theater.

I’m also not sure how accurate the science is in Ad Astra. Brad Pitt flying through the ring of Neptune like Superman with a shield felt it might not actually work that way irl (but of course, I’m not a scientist. Someone please get Bill Nye to confirm). Ultimately, when this movie is good, it’s good. But there are several holes in the story that are just impossible to ignore.

I walked into the theater expecting to see another version of “The Martian” trading Matt Damon for Brad Pitt. But Ad Astra has almost nothing in common with the space thriller except, well, space. Ad Astra leaves out the thrill and action most people have come to expect when going to see a a movie where a man wears a space suit. And instead, opts for a quiet journey into the beautiful unknown.

Don’t think of Ad Astra as a space movie. If you go into it expecting a fun space adventure to keep you on your toes, you will be sorely disappointed. If you want a fun space movie to keep you on your toes, then this one if not for you. If you enjoy movies that don’t necessarily entertain but make you think and wonder, then you might like Ad Astra. I’m somewhere between the two camps.