As a star among the stars, Brad Pitt might not have the answers to all of the existential queries in Ad Astra, but his magnetic portrayal keeps this ambitious science-fiction saga from becoming lost in the cosmos.
The latest entry in a recent string of lonely astronaut movies isn’t exactly a breakthrough, although it conveys a genuine wonder about what’s out there, and how that sense of curiosity influences our responsibility to preserve intergalactic peace and harmony.
The story is set in a timeless near future, with the planet on the brink of a catastrophe from forces that are weakening the atmosphere at a rate far more threatening than global warming.
Pitt plays Roy, an astronaut known for his calm demeanor under pressure. That will come in handy for his latest top-secret assignment — discovering whether his long-lost father, Cliff (Tommy Lee Jones) is still alive.
Cliff was a revered space pilot before he vanished along with his crew somewhere around Neptune many years ago. Is it possible he’s responsible for the interplanetary instability? Roy feels obligated to find out at all costs, even when higher-ups surmise his objectivity is compromised.
Gradually, details are filled in about the status of space exploration as well as the state of life on Earth and elsewhere. That includes a partially colonized moon featuring an Applebee’s and a high-speed subway system.
During the voyage that follows to the outer reaches of the Milky Way, Roy is forced to confront his past and reconcile his own future with that of humankind. Along the way, we explore the galaxy through his eyes, and his inner struggle gives the film a vital emotional anchor, especially in a deeply introspective final act.
The dazzling visuals, courtesy of director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk), capture the vastness of outer space while accentuating its perilous beauty.
The screenplay, which requires some buy-in, sometimes struggles to coalesce its high-minded ideas into a coherent narrative. Fortunately, its melodramatic tendencies don’t undermine the moral complexities as it teeters between a character study and an intense action thriller.
Many of the film’s more practical questions might forever remain unanswered, given the sputtering progress of the American space program. Yet there’s at least one thing Ad Astra makes abundantly clear: We know how to make a damn durable spacesuit.