Ad Astra (2019)

*. Apocalypse Now in space. Which is fair enough because Apocalypse Now was Heart of Darkness in Vietnam.
*. But what a falling off there’s been. From the European exploitation of the Congo to America’s misadventures in Southeast Asia to . . . what exactly? Old Man McBride is hardly an imperialist. Kurtz has become a grumpy old man suffering from dementia. Or is he more like Hal, having killed off his crew so as to preserve his inhuman mission?
*. More to the point: do I care? No. Brad Pitt has never done well at emoting, so he’s actually well cast here as the preternaturally stoic Roy McBride. But he’s hard to relate to. When he finally gets to reunite with his dad (Tommy Lee Jones) for some deep-space bonding it’s clear they have nothing to say to each other. So they don’t. But in losing that connection — here the music soars — Roy discovers what really matters. Which is, you know, being nice to his girl back home.
*. Yes, the takeaway here really is that sappy. Ad Astra is one of a series of epic SF films with stunning visuals and (supposedly) adult themes that came out around this time. Gravity (2013). Interstellar (2014). The Martian (2015). Maybe even throw in the 2018 restoration of 2001. The action sequences here, beginning with a fall from a space antenna, are breathtaking. You want to see all of these movies on a big screen.
*. But the script! It fails on every level. The story doesn’t hold together for a second. What is the big secret that Donald Sutherland’s character is keeping from McBride? He knows what the mission is. What is this war that’s going on? What is Donald Sutherland’s character even doing in this movie? He’s too old to be helping much and seems to have no role to play anyway. How do scavengers survive on the Moon? How is the Lima Project’s antimatter power source causing the Surge? How did McBride manage to sneak on board the rocket (with seconds to spare!). This is all silly stuff.
*. And the dialogue! Milius at his most grandiose never sounded this stiff and portentous. It doesn’t even have the wit of Milius. By the time McBride grabs the panel to use as a shield to go bodysurfing back to his ship at the end I was thinking, longingly, of Dark Star.
*. No such levity is felt anywhere in this leaden production. But why not? There are pirates! Monkeys! But Kubrick had more of a sense of humour than we get here. And Keir Dullea a lighter presence than Brad Pitt.
*. There’s no point beating up on this. Parts of it look fantastic. But it goes nowhere interesting, and without much sense of urgency. As noted, the message is banal to a point where the shallowness of the ending is less surprising than the appearance of the monkeys. Monkeys in space! How I wish the movie had been all about their madcap adventures instead.

14 thoughts on “Ad Astra (2019)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    The space monkeys and moon pirates are the best bits. And Russian Dolls woman! But the ending undoes whatever we came for, the punchline defeats the journey. That was the big worry on Apocalypse Now, and it’s a bigger problem here. Oh, well…

      1. fragglerocking

        Haha likewise, and I’ve read so many books now I can’t remember a lot of the plots at all. I suppose it’s because our minds are full of lofty thoughts.

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