Ad Astra movie review: The calmest action film, ever

Photo: Ad Astra.. Credit: Francois Duhamel. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox
Photo: Ad Astra.. Credit: Francois Duhamel. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox /

James Gray’s Ad Astra is the newest film starring Brad Pitt, and it did not disappoint. If you’re expecting the average deep space action film, don’t.

I was thrilled to be able to see and review Ad Astra (meaning, to the stars). Not just because I am a fan of Brad Pitt and his work, but because I am also a fan of space and space movies. I’ve spent my life looking up and I’ve seen lots of movies about what is, or may be going on up there.

Before you take another step, please be aware that this review contains what some would consider spoilers. While I will try to evade detail that isn’t readily available in the trailers, you may learn things that are only otherwise discovered when watching the film.

Right away, we get treated to a dramatic situation that would leave anyone in a panic. But not this guy. As it turns out, Pitt’s character has a documented reputation for basically being unable to become heightened. He smoothly endures what would make anyone else traumatized for life. Nope, this is fine.

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With that final demonstration of his special talent, his superiors are like, hey, we want you to do this incredibly dangerous and severe mission. And of course, he’s like, “yup.” Don’t mind the fact that part of this mission is going to the literal edge of explored space to the actual spot where his father (Tommy Lee Jones), the most decorated astronaut in all of history, was last seen.

Well it seems that something is awry out there on Neptune. Pitt’s character, Roy McBride, is going to head out to the dark side of the moon, take a ship to Mars, and then try to contact his dad’s ship. Oh, also, his dad might actually be on that ship, even though he’s been declared dead ages ago. This is fine.

So I was initially intrigued by the first Ad Astra trailer (link above). I thought, oh, here’s Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler, alongside Brad Pitt. How could this go wrong?

The trailer is packed with talk about the mission to find intelligent life, action scenes, danger, and the Armageddonesque Liv Tyler conversation on a screen with the astronaut.

And all that stuff was in the movie, to be sure. But I neglected to follow-up and watch the second trailer, which was absolutely much more the actual speed and demeanor of the film. While it was a story about saving the world, that was backseat to the story about the McBride father and son.

Check it out to see what I mean:

Google users are hovering around 60 percent thumbs up for Ad Astra, and some reviews have pointed to this double plot situation as an unexpected or unwelcome disappointment. I wouldn’t say that at all, since it really was a cool film on both fronts. But I will say for sure that you should know what you’re getting into.

Ad Astra is unique in a way that stands out to me, specifically. I have been a movie-involved person since a very early age. It takes a lot for me to be impressed, I won’t pretend. But in this capacity, one thing that captured me is that I can’t find another film to compare this one to. Ordinarily I’d say “this is like the cousin of *insert other movie title here*.” But not this time.

While I got that aliens/space/Armageddon vibe from the first trailer, it didn’t play out that way. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t get to see the new alien on screen. There was a point where I was like, is it going to happen? But no.

Ad Astra
Ad Astra /

Through the movie, I was also waiting for Pitt’s character to get heightened. His character was unique and amazingly portrayed as a calm person. It became immediately clear that this was a defense mechanism he developed so that he wouldn’t have to feel his feelings.

I was certain that would break through, especially when they sent him after his own father, thought to be dead. Did it happen? I’m not gonna tell.

I’ll admit the plot was very straight-lined. From early on, we knew pretty much everything we were going to. The film stayed on track and Pitt kept to his character flawlessly. His eyes twitched on cue, his face was like botox. Bravo.

As for the effects and visuals, this is the top reason I suggest seeing the film in the theater. The lighting, sounds, and effects were pretty great. I could’ve used more of them, certainly, but it was pretty realistic. It even managed to make me drop my jaw a time or two.

The one truly unexpected moment for me was when they entered a ship that had given a mayday signal. I knew something was going to be happening in there, but when I saw what, I was like, “WHAT?!” I suspected it would be of that nature, but what I saw was weird and pretty awful, honestly.

In the long run, things went mostly as you’d expect, but somehow in a dimmed way. I wanted more drama, more excitement, more emotion. But if you know going in that Pitt’s character is insanely calm, you will be left to have your own emotions at the happenings of the story and scenery, rather than anticipating his.

The movie is 2 hours long, so be ready for that. And I will also tell you that because it continuously moves along with incident after incident (it is a bit of an action flick), there’s not really a good time to sneak off to the bathroom, so don’t order the big soda!

You’ll be treated to an inner monologue throughout, which takes you into the mind of a child in an adult body. A boy who’s lost his father, followed in his footsteps, then gets asked to go fix what his father did. “In the end, the son suffers the sins of the father,” he said at one time.

Ad Astra
Ad Astra /

There are some scenes on Mars and a shootout on the surface of the moon during a high-speed chase with pirates, so that’s pretty cool, and definitely new territory for a film. They’ve got it imagined as if we’ve populated areas of the moon, commercial flights go in and out like planes for those with the cash, and there’s a whole protocol for the masses. This was a bit Total Recall, if I’m being real. But just a dash.

When the chips fell, as we all knew they would, and Pitt has to do a thing, I will tell you I was like, “um… really?” In keeping with his character completely, he did a  thing with such lack of second thought that it kind of bothered me. I thought for sure that would be the moment I was waiting for, but it wasn’t. I guess technically that was the “twist.” You’ll see what I mean. I really liked the very end though, expected, but well-done.

The story is unique, and the scenery is realistic. One reason for that, we learned when Pitt kicked off a new series called #AskNASA, with some talk about the film. He stated that he spent time watching real astronauts in the space station, to learn some of what his acting was going to need to entail.

I, too, have watched these same astronauts, and I would say that he managed to replicate that well. I was especially impressed with his solo time on a long leg where his mental state became a bit questionable for a time. Good stuff. If you’ve seen Fight Club, you know ol’ Brad is more than capable of getting crazy. But mostly, this was akin to a Meet Joe Black situation, with less smiling.

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.
Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”. /

I recommend seeing Ad Astra on the big screen, and I will see it again on DVD when it comes out (expected in December). If you go to the theater, you will get the thrill of falling in space, looking up into a ship that actually made me a little dizzy, and the action-packed moments that were all sewn together with plot and acting fluidity.

While the show wasn’t packed with unpredictable twists or edge of your seat drama, there were plenty of bursts of it that kept me going, completely removing the apprehension I had of it being 2 hours long. It went by really fast, and I honestly wished it was longer!

Go and enjoy this actiony space drama that involves a message about how fathers and sons play an everlasting and critical role in each other’s lives and development, even in each other’s absence.

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What are you most looking forward to from Ad Astra? Let us know in the comments below!

See Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, showing in theaters now.