Ad Astra was the type of movie—in theory—that I’d like to see more of. It’s not often that we get big budget science films at the cinema that aren’t part of the Star Wars franchise or connected to some big director like Ridley Scott or James Cameron.
I also wanted to see it to give my support to something that isn’t part of the Marvel cinematic universe or some other big tent pole series. If I don’t make the effort to support original work when it comes out, then I can’t complain when Hollywood studios release nothing but reboots, prequels and sequels. Mind you, I enjoy those too but not as much as Hollywood marketing directors might imagine.
But I was particularly intrigued by a bold statement I’d read that Ad Astra was going to take a look at the concept of masculinity and what it should mean in the modern world. Things like men repressing their emotions and toxic masculinity are big issues and challenging them head-on is a worthy ambition for a film.
So it’s disappointing to say I found this movie underwhelming.
It started well enough, with an opening sequence that was thrilling to the senses—particularly when viewed on the large screen—and, certainly, the visuals continued to impress throughout. However, it soon became apparent this was a movie that wanted to say something but couldn’t articulate it.
The physical journey the protagonist (played by Brad Pitt) undertakes, a search through the cosmos for his missing father, seems perfunctory at best. Things happen along the way but they don’t contribute in any meaningful manner to the proceedings other than to pad out the film’s running time. Attempts at scientific plausibility are quickly discarded as well, undermining possible tension that might arise from being stranded in space… because heaven forbid a story has tension.
But the real kicker comes when the film reaches its denouement. What happens is, I imagine, what most viewers will expect to happen. Just briefer and with less dialogue. Our protagonist, an emotionally closed-off man conforming to traditional expectations of masculinity, will learn the lessons one expects him to. Except the lessons are not explored in any depth. They are simple. And most viewers won’t need to learn them as they’ll have figured them out for themselves long ago.
This leaves Ad Astra as a visually pleasing, occasionally interesting but—ultimately—empty film.