Ad Astra may span light years of space and time, but the bottom line is that the movie is a story about a world-destroying mystery and a hero with deep-rooted daddy issues.
The movie, which opens Friday, is ostensibly about an astronaut asked to travel to the end of our solar system to stop a force that has been used to disrupt electrical activity, a galactic electro-magnetic pulse.
But beyond the incredible film score, the breathtaking cinematography, and the amazing cast, Ad Astra is the story of a flawed man trying to resolve the complications of an even more flawed father. When the credits roll, the audience is not really sure what happened or why. The film is pretty, but what does it all mean? The space shuttle bay doors seem wide open for a sequel.
Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is the stalwart hero of the movie, a man forever driven to impress his father, who flew off on a one-way mission to Neptune in search of extraterrestrial life when Roy was just a kid.
Pitt, who sacrificed human comforts of love and family to be the best astronaut he could be, is told that the massive electrical surge that killed thousands may have come from Neptune, where his father, Clifford, (Tommy Lee Jones) was last seen. And by the way, we think your dad is still alive and for some reason is trying to destroy the Earth. Pitt is asked to try to communicate with his dad so the military can get a fix on his location and blow him to space dust.
There are so many unanswered questions in the film that is could have been a season of Lost.
Like: How do “officials” know Clifford McBride is responsible for the threat and more importantly, how do they know he is alive? And if they knew, why didn’t they tell his only son at some point in the last two decades?
There are not many twists and turns in this very straightforward story. An early scene explains that Earth’s moon has become a No Man’s Land where pirates and outlaws hold sway. That is a fascinating concept that is quickly displayed and discarded. The opening scenes where a space station is destroyed and Pitt literally becomes the man who fell to Earth is a heart-stopping highlight of the film. The in-space activity, including fights, on the spaceship are truly wonderful, like an underwater ballet in clumsy space suits.
What the film lacks is a logical story with a satisfying explanation.
Ruth Negga, best known for her co-starring role on Preacher, and the always stellar Donald Sutherland, are impressive for their brief appearances. Liv Tyler, as Pitt’s long-suffering girlfriend, appears in only about five minutes of the film, where she stares longingly at her emotionally-stunted lover.
The film, which was directed and co-written by James Gray, (The Lost City of Z), belongs to Brad Pitt. We see everything through his somewhat warped perspective and are as confused as he is. Much of the film is composed of close-ups of Pitt’s face in a space suit, straining to accomplish something, though not really understanding his mission.
Ad Astra, which is Latin for “To The Stars,” is a beautiful film that owes a lot to Gravity, Interstellar, and 2001. What it lacks in story it makes up for in style, more likely to appeal to Brad Pitt fans than fans of science fiction.