By Bradley Lane
Ad Astra presents itself in its opening moments as a personal story that uses the backdrop of space as a storytelling device. If you were looking for another Interstellar, or a space traveling epic, Ad Astra will disappoint you. However, with the proper framing of the material, Ad Astra reveals itself to be one of the most introspective and thoughtful films in recent memory.
On its most base level, Ad Astra is about ace astronaut, Roy McBride, on a mission to find his estranged father. His father, H. Clifford McBride, is a legend in the American space program, but disappeared further into space than any manned vessel before him to find proof of intelligent life free from the magnetic constraints of the sun. Roy’s journey is marked by the planets he moves to, but the real journey is one of self-exploration, described in intimate, poetic detail by a solemn Brad Pitt voice-over narration.
This voice-over narration is simultaneously the best and worst aspect of Ad Astra. Without it, the film would be basically incoherent. There is very little dialogue in the film; most of the film is spent in contemplative thought. Which makes sense for the character, but more than that, it makes sense for space travel. There are no far-fetched, cryogenic sleep chambers in Ad Astra’s universe. Roy is awake and lonely in the outer reaches of space for most of the film. It only makes sense that the narrative would draw attention to that inner dialogue. Unfortunately, the voice-over at the very beginning and very ending undercut the themes of the film and often feel over-explanatory. Most of these instances of over-use come from the voice-over just repeating what is already observable in the scene.
The look and feel of Ad Astra is almost documentarian. Certainly, the film is firmly within the science-fiction genre, but its approach to the space travel aspect is very realistic. It feels like a very natural progression of the technology we currently use in space travel.
Ultimately, the film is at its best when it juxtaposes the vastness of space with the personal struggles within the film. Simultaneously the film makes interpersonal relationships feel insignificant and tiny within the context of space, while elevating those relationships to the highest level of priority for any and all humans. It is a beautiful contradiction that deserves to be experienced on the big screen. – 4/5 stars