Ad Astra is a heavy-handed, melodramatic trip to the stars that is never as smart as it thinks it is. Thankfully, it will awe you with its visuals and atmosphere to the point that you might not even care.
But let’s put that aside for a minute. I should say right off the bat that if you’re looking for another Interstellar, you’ll walk away very disappointed. I don’t mean that as a diss on the movie’s quality, but more so a heads-up that Ad Astra is far more interested in being a slow, contemplative journey as opposed to the action movie that its trailers try to sell you on. The movie’s pace is tiresome at certain points when you can practically feel director James Grey over-indulge himself, but more often than not I found it to effectively convey the sense of isolation and loneliness that the movie is going for.
Even when it drags, Ad Astra still has a lot going for it. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is eye-candy whose sugar livens up every scene with gorgeous silhouettes and wide shots, and when paired with Max Richter’s score it makes for a lethal combo. Brad Pitt also gives one of the best performances of his career, displaying a level of subtlety and melancholy that is extremely impressive, especially considering he effortlessly oozed charisma in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood merely two months ago. The dude has range.
But as with too many technically impressive movies, there is unfortunately a weak script here. The movie tries hard to tackle so many different ideas that it struggles to sink its teeth into any of them, so it ends up feeling a bit shallow despite being filmed as if it’s the most important thing ever made. The movie also has a constant narration from Brad Pitt’s character that essentially spells out the subtext of the movie word-for-word, nearly destroying most of the movie’s thematic weight if it weren’t for Pitt’s powerful performance keeping the whole thing afloat.
Regardless of how frustrating Ad Astra can be, it’s a movie full of some incredible sequences and a constant feeling that you’re stuck in space, always on the verge of the unknown. It’s up to you whether that experience is worth having your patience tested, but I can say with certainty that when I look back at 2019’s movies in late December, I have no fear that Ad Astra will be forgotten from my memory and lost in space.