In my mind, the two elements that are best exemplified in science fiction is that of fantasy and of the philosophical. We are intrigued by the technical wonder, yet still have reflections of our own life and world as we leave the theater. Certain movies make us think of one of said elements over the other (Star Wars is more fantasy), but others can balance them well (the all time great sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey does this, though it leans a bit more slightly on the philosophical side). The same is the case with Ad Astra, and while it is not up there with 2001 (to be fair, very few are), it is still a wonder to behold.
Set in the near future, Ad Astra (which means “to the stars”) centers on veteran astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who also narrates. When a power surge occurs that affects all of mankind, he is approached to undertake a top secret mission and contact the leader of a past mission, Project Lima. The crew of that project was sent to the outer reaches of the solar system in search of extra terrestrial life. It launched nearly three decades prior, led by Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).
Roy is told his father has made it as far as Neptune, where the source of the power surge occurred. Along the way, he gets some help from an old friend/collegue of his dad, Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) and Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga).
Nearly the whole movie revolves around Roy, and Brad Pitt is no stranger to being able to carry a movie (he ranks up with Tom Cruise and Will Smith as one of the biggest stars in the world). He is much more subdued here than he was in Once upon a time…in Hollywood, and that is because the script demands it. Roy is required to keep self check ins, making sure he is fit emotionally and psychologically for each mission (it is said his heart rate has never exceded past 85 during a mission). He is so focused he is barely there mentally for his wife Eve (Liv Tyler).
What’s more, Roy must also live the life of knowing his father is a hero in the public eye, somewhat riding the coat tails. He has indeed looked up to his father, but soon realizes that being like him will indeed take a heavy toll on his life and soul.
Undoubtably, the film is breathtaking in how it handles its visuals. Long before the movie started, a part of me wondered if I should have taken the chance to see this in IMAX, and how I wish I had! Consider the scene on the service of the moon, where the Pitt and Sutherland characters are chased by pirates (since the moon has been colonized) on rovers. We know it is fiction, but it seems like it could actually happen in a century or so. The dangers of space travel are always shown in film (most notably 2013’s Gravity), but the views one would see make those dangers almost worth the risk.
Parents, the film is a very moderate PG-13. There is no sexual content of any kind, and only a few curse words (at least one F bomb I remember). There is also some violence, but nothing too much that would scare a preteen senseless.
There are still many questions raised that will puzzle some audience members (how an animal test subject was alive when the crew wasn’t was confusing). Still, the end result is more than satisfactory. The best part of the film I won’t give away, but it is what Roy discovers at the end of his journey, is something all of us need to remember, and what makes it unique among nearly any science fiction film I have ever seen.