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Review: Ad Astra

Poster image of 20th Centruy Fox's AD ASTRA

Supporting characters who surround the lead protagonists in films are usually important. When used properly, they have the ability to boost every scene they’re in and make the entire cinematic experience that much better for everyone. When looking at the list of actors placed around Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, one would think that there was a chance for something like that to take place here, but that turns out not to be the case. It’s also not the only problem this film has.

Ad Astra is completely constructed around Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), an astronaut known for his calm and collected demeanor. Considered one of the safest choices, McBride is asked to travel to the outer edges of the solar system in order to uncover a mystery that threatens Earth’s very existence and is also linked to his long lost father (Tommy Lee Jones) who disappeared in space years earlier. On a journey that will require him to travel further than anyone has ever gone before, he now also gets the chance to travel deep within himself and answer questions he may have been too afraid to even ask before.

A picture like Ad Astra should be something that stands on its own. But as I watched it, I noticed that it reminded me of a few different movies from the past. I can’t say for certain that these movies definitively inspired this one, but it appears pretty obvious to me. One of those movies was Annihilation. If you’re one of the few people who saw that movie, you’ll probably see what I’m talking about if you decide to watch this one as well. How you feel about that will come down to what you thought about that Natalie Portman led picture.

Obviously, there are a few key differences, but some of the core parts of the story are the same. For those of you paying enough attention, you likely see some of Apocalypse Now in Ad Astra to go along with that. For the sake of preserving the surprises, I won’t go into how exactly these two are similar, but I’ll just point out that this should be easier for most to see since more people have definitely seen that Francis Ford Coppola directed picture over the years when compared to Annihilation.

And the last of the films that Ad Astra reminds me of includes The Lost City of Z. Of course, James Gray happened to direct and write that movie as well as this one, so it’s easy to understand why they would share some similarities. I guess you can also point out that it resembles Arrival as well to some extent. While there are plenty of differences in terms of what’s included in all of these movies, the one thing that they all share is the pace at which they move forward.

The movies that I mentioned aren’t necessarily bad (at least a couple of them are), but the slow pace prevents them from being as good as they could be. That’s basically how I felt while sitting through Ad Astra. There are interesting elements here, but the slow movement can and likely will take many people out of what they’re trying to watch. Because of this, even if you find some of this compelling, you may lose focus and start hoping that it moves along faster.

Instead of things speeding up as they should have, you’re going to continue to get a movie that just kind of floats for two hours. I think even they realized that this would be hard to deal with. That’s why they included a couple of moments that could add some energy to the proceedings. The problem with this is that these scenes don’t really add much to the movie as a whole. If anything, they’re only there to wake you up if you just so happen to be dozing off.

Although I didn’t fall asleep, I know a couple of guys who also attended the screening I went to did struggle with staying awake at times. I understand that the vast majority of this movie takes place in space and things appear to be moving slowly up there. However, that doesn’t mean the movie itself should be drifting along eating up unnecessary time. As I’ve said plenty of times before, that’s never a good thing and that’s probably the biggest obstacle this movie struggles with.

If there’s anything else to see as negative in this movie, it’s the use of the characters who fill the world of the protagonist. I understand that Ad Astra is a vehicle for an actor like Brad Pitt (he’s also one of the producers), but a sulking character draped in monotony should never be the only important person in a slow-moving movie. Here, none of the other characters seem to live outside of his existence. They’re only here for him in one way or another and never add anything to the movie unless it’s to help him somehow.

When looking at every aspect of this movie, Pitt is literally in the center of everything (including the center of the camera in several instances thanks to all the close-ups). He’s a proven actor and has been involved in plenty of movies that I’ve liked, but his character shouldn’t be the only thing that matters here. As a veteran of acting and film, he probably knows this better than most. I guess James Gray should recognize that as well. That’s why it’s disappointing that none of the other characters we meet throughout Ad Astra really mean anything.

Most of the negative attributes that I see in Ad Astra wouldn’t matter as much if they would have just sped things up. It also would have helped in explaining why the named actors outside of Brad Pitt had no depth and had such insignificant roles. Sometimes, speeding things up and cutting stuff out is all it takes to improve a movie. There really wouldn’t have been much of a downside to doing it. In fact, you’d only increase the chances of people actually liking it.

Rating: R

Director: James Gray

Screenwriters:
James Gray
Ethan Gross

Cast:
Brad Pitt
Tommy Lee Jones
Liv Tyler
Ruth Negga
Donald Sutherland
Jamie Kennedy
Kimberly Elise
John Ortiz
Natasha Lyonne

Film Length: 124 minutes

Release Date: September 20th, 2019

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

  • 3/10
    Score - 3/10
3/10
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