Brad Pitt goes to space and meets his space dad, who has been missing for decades. That’s basically James Gray’s “Ad Astra” in a nutshell.
In the near future, Major Roy McBride (Pitt), son of pioneering astronaut H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), is tasked with a mission by U.S. Space Command (the branch of the military that operates in space) to make contact with his father, who disappeared some 26 years prior while stationed in orbit around Neptune for a top secret mission.
The mission, named the Lima Project, was tasked with monitoring the universe to find any and all signs of intelligent life, but ended in catastrophe, as the H. Clifford’s crew went insane being so far from home and attempted to return to Earth, forcing him to kill them. The general public, however, knows H. Clifford to be a hero who disappeared tragically, as the military did not let their mistake go public.
His son, Roy, is drafted to make contact with him and find him when a series of power surges emanating from the Lima base spur a series of catastrophes on Earth and elsewhere. The military hoped that Roy’s connection with his father would elicit a response from him, but he is eventually taken off the mission because he is seen as emotionally compromised (the film’s world uses AI therapy to constantly monitor Roy’s mental state, as traveling in space in emotional distress is understandably dangerous). However, Roy rebels, and carries out the mission’s ultimate goal himself: destroy the Lima base, and ideally bring his father home.
The most interesting thing about this film is its direction, as Gray visually brings to life the journey of going from the earth to the moon, the moon to Mars, and then Mars to Neptune. It’s not something you see in film very often, if at all, and Gray also portrays a future film has barely brushed: Human’s early years with normal space travel. There are commercial flights to the moon in this film, and there are colonies on the moon and Mars with their own problems, which are very similar to those back on Earth. This is an era with warfare in space, albeit it is still very early days, as you have people in space suits very similar to today’s carrying knives and guns. There is a scene that I find comical — where Roy and his military escort are being chased by pirates on weaponized moon rovers which, while funny to us, is very representative of the early days of many forms of combat. It might seem silly, but it doesn’t change the tenseness or dangerousness of the situation.
The film is visually gorgeous, and is where Gray shines the most as a director. The film’s scenes on Mars and Neptune are filled with vibrant, alien reds and blues that haunt you, reminiscent of “Blade Runner” and other sci fi greats. It wouldn’t surprise me if this film gets an Oscar nod — space films are hot these days, and they serve to be a great sandbox to test out one’s skills as a director. Space is still man’s last great frontier, both in real life and in film, and “Ad Astra” pushes the envelope of what we expect to see in these films just a little further.
“Ad Astra” gets an 8/10