Review: AD ASTRA Is An Inferior APOCALYPSE NOW In Space

FIRST IMPRESSION

Ad Astra has great visuals and good performances, but the script is simply a re-hash of tropes and themes that have been seen before.
Writing
Directing
Acting
Technical Merit

Ad Astra, co-written and directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z), is a new star-driven sci-fi epic, a breed of film once thought to be extinct. Visually phenomenal, but lacking in original ideas, this derivative and sometimes tedious meditation on exploration is a disappointingly tedious feast for the eyes.

The movie follows an astronaut who is sent into space to uncover the truth regarding his father who went on a mission thirty years prior which is threatening to impact the future of humanity. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is similar to Apocalypse Now, in fact eerily so. Although Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (the inspiration for Coppola’s film) is not credited, it was obviously an inspiration for Gray while writing his script.

That isn’t to say that the movie is bad — Gray just seems to think that it is more visionary than in actually is. In reality, the film covers already trodden ground, both narratively and thematically. Because of this, every beat in the story feels telegraphed and predictable. There are a few truly exciting scenes (including one riveting action sequence taking place on the moon), but more often than not, the philosophical ramblings of the characters feel like old news.

Much of the movie’s thematic content is delivered via narration from the protagonist. The film has a lot to say about exploration, international politics, and the psychological impacts these have on people, but these big themes aren’t what feels most interesting about this movie. Instead, it is the family drama, in which the protagonist tries to cope with the realization that his father whom he presumed dead may actually still be alive, that is fascinating. Yet the film reaches “to the stars” and leaves the compelling drama underdeveloped on the ground.

ad astra facility
Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”. Credit: Francois Duhamel. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox.

The protagonist, Roy McBride, is an interesting character, but the audience is forced into identifying with his perspective through the narration. Had more natural means been used, this connection would have been stronger and the exposition would have been rendered unnecessary. However, perhaps most frustrating about the movie is the lack of memorable supporting characters. Some of the best moments of Apocalypse Now are those in which the protagonist interacts with zany side characters. That is what is missing from Ad Astra.

Brad Pitt’s performance in the film is great, much more subtle and effective than anything he has done in recent memory. Although his big and flashy turns are more enjoyable, it is nice to see him get work like this in which the details make the difference. The supporting cast is also very good, albeit underused. The best supporting performance comes from Donald Sutherland, although Tommy Lee Jones is likely to get most of the attention.

Of course, the main reason to see this movie is the visual grandeur Gray brings to the screen. This is one of those “see it on the big screen or don’t see it at all” cases that would fall apart even more if watched at home on a smaller screen. The cinematography, visual effects, and production are great, transporting the audience into the futuristic world of the film. Max Richter’s score is also excellent, one of the year’s finest, yet it sadly won’t qualify for major awards on a technicality.

Unfortunately, Ad Astra doesn’t quite reach the heights that it should. It looks great, features good performances, and is entirely watchable, but the writing simply isn’t that special. This will have its fair share of fans, and understandably so, though it is far from a masterpiece.

Ad Astra is now playing in theaters.

TRENDING THIS WEEK

Abe Weissman Being ICONIC for 5 Minutes Straight

There's iconic, and there's Abe Weissman from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. » Watch the new season of The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel now exclusively with your Prime Membership: http://bit.ly/TheMarvelousMrsMaiselS3... » SUBSCRIBE: http://bit.ly/PrimeVideoSubscribe About The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel: In 1958 New York, Midge Maisel's life is on track- husband, kids, and elegant Yom Kippur dinners in their Upper West…

Katy Keene | Season 1 Episode 3 | Katy Asks For A Night Off To See K.O.’s Fight Scene | The CW

Watch new episodes on Thursdays and stream Katy Keene from the beginning, free only on The CW app: https://go.cwtv.com/KATgenyt SUBSCRIBE: http://go.cwtv.com/YTSubscribe About KATY KEENE: Fashion legend-to-be Katy Keene (Lucy Hale), singer/songwriter Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), performer Jorge Lopez/Ginger, and “It Girl” Pepper Smith — as they chase their twenty-something dreams in New York City…together. Connect…

What’s New on Netflix | March 2020 | Netflix

What To Watch In March | Netflix Action - 0:10 Drama - 1:02 Comedy - 2:25 Family - 3:31 Anime - 5:03 Nonfiction - 5:44 SUBSCRIBE: https://bit.ly/29qBUt7 About Netflix Netflix is the world's leading streaming entertainment service with over 167 million paid memberships in over 190 countries enjoying TV series, documentaries and feature films across…

Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy: Siege | New York Toy Fair | Netflix

In the midst of ongoing war on Cybertron, forces of good and evil clash as they search for the source of their power: the Allspark. This may not be the life they imagined, but it's a life worth fighting for. Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy: Siege is coming soon, only on Netflix. Watch Transformers: War…

Batwoman | The Batsuit | The CW

Learn more about the iconic Batsuit, brought to you by AT&T! Stream Batwoman free on The CW App. SUBSCRIBE: http://go.cwtv.com/YTSubscribe About BATWOMAN: Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) soars through the shadowed streets of Gotham as Batwoman. But don’t call her a hero yet. In a city desperate for a savior, she must first overcome her own…

Black Lightning | Season 3 Episode 15 | The Book Of War: Chapter Two Promo | The CW

Stream new episodes of Black Lightning Tuesdays, free only on The CW App: https://go.cwtv.com/genBLKyt SUBSCRIBE: http://go.cwtv.com/YTSubscribe About BLACK LIGHTNING: Jefferson Pierce is a man wrestling with a secret. Nine years ago, Pierce was gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, which he used to keep his hometown streets safe as the masked…

Dance • Utopia Falls • A Hulu Original

A group of teens in a distant future colony uncover an ancient forbidden archive of historical, cultural and musical relics. This discovery forces them to question everything they’ve been taught, and use the power of music to ignite change in their reality to expose the truth. SUBSCRIBE TO HULU’S YOUTUBE CHANNEL Click the link to…
Avatar
Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here