Ad Astra: Over-hyped Oscar Bait

What does Brad find in space? Himself

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The movie opens with the text ‘The Near Future – A Time of Hope and Conflict’. This is one of the dumbest, most generic descriptions I’ve ever seen. It’s followed by epic interstellar images, as well as a brief glimpse of Brad Pitt’s face. Because he’s the pensive hero who’s about to go on an epic interstellar journey. Get it??

Cut to Brad Pitt working on a space antenna. There’s an explosion, and he falls – a fall from grace and space. Thankfully he survives and meets with high-ranking generals to discuss a mission (à la Apocalypse Now). His father, Tommy Lee Jones, is wreaking havoc from his outpost in Neptune, and it’s up to Brad to try and stop him. This journey will define him. He’ll need to give up everything. Can he do it? Is he up to the task? What is he willing to sacrifice? What will he say to his father? What’s the meaning of it all?

If my narration seems exaggerated, rest assured, the actual narration in the movie is even worse. Brad’s character tells the audience everything he does, says, feels, thinks, desires… which gets old after about 5 minutes. It’s laughably excessive, except you can’t laugh out loud in a theater when everyone else thinks it’s a serious movie…

So, Brad goes to the moon. The moon is a fascinating place – there’s pirates, Subway, and $120 in-flight blankets. But in all seriousness, this is the best part of the movie, and I would’ve loved to see more time devoted to lunar worldbuilding. There’s a shootout chase with moon pirates that’s easily the most immersive, original sequence. Another ten minutes spent delving into the politics and economics of the moon would’ve made the story much richer.

But that doesn’t happen. Just like Brad’s throwaway line about his time in Antarctica, the most interesting moments are wasted. Instead, Brad goes to Mars and leaves behind his dying friend Donald Sutherland. And unless I missed something, Sutherland doesn’t show up again, despite being the only distinct character other than Brad and Tommy. Why they cut him out of the plot is beyond me.

What does Brad find in space? Himself

On the trip to Mars, the crew receives an SOS call from a research station. Brad and the captain go to help them, and I kid you not, they’re attacked by a killer monkey. Which was the funniest, most absurd thing I’ve ever seen. If the rest of the movie had grown increasingly weird and wtf-level insane (à la Apocalypse Now), I would’ve liked it better. But it DOESN’T! It immediately goes back to being serious! It’s mind-boggling how that scene ended up in the final cut…

So, after that encounter (and an unintentionally hilarious shot of a sleeping astronaut with a limp hand), Brad makes a successful emergency landing on Mars. He contacts his father with a heartfelt, unscripted message. He’s punished for breaking protocol, and flagged as psychologically unstable for being sentimental. What a reasonable response, punishing a man for wanting to see his father.

But don’t worry, he has a plan to get to Neptune. He literally swims through a Martian lake just to get to the exhaust port of the rocket. I get that the lake is metaphorical, but come on. Once he’s on the rocket, the crew tries to kill him, because he’s been deemed a threat. This is the same crew he saved when he made the emergency landing. I suppose if you work for an agency that labels sentimentality an unstable response, you have no qualms killing a stranger who saved your life.

What does Brad find in space? Himself

In another scene that was inadvertently funny, the crew tries to kill Brad. I know you shouldn’t laugh out loud when an astronaut splats to their death, but in my defense, it was filmed very abruptly (sort of like the monkey). For being trained astronauts, they are completely inept at stopping him. And they all die. But at least now Brad has the ship to himself. He flies to Neptune and gives a monologue about how being in space by yourself is lonely.

This was the part where I struggled to stay awake, but I don’t think I missed much. Brad finds his father, convinces him not to attack the Earth, then blows up his father’s outpost. There’s a really boring scene where their hands touch to symbolize their bond. And another scene where Brad flies through the rings of Neptune with a sheet of metal for a shield. Definitely possible. Oh, and plot twist, there’s no life outside our galaxy. Bummer. For a second I thought we would have a Nolan-level twist that would have explained the monkey. But alas.

In the end, Tommy dies and Brad goes back to Earth. He says something like, ‘I realized that meaning wasn’t in outer space, it was here all along’. Because remember, he’s narrating everything. And that’s the end. How this movie has such a high critical score is baffling, but at least the audience wasn’t fooled.