Not quite what we might expect Ad Astra is more psychological than action.
Ray McBride (Brad Pitt) begins the film in the most interesting action scene. He is on what appears to be a satellite immediately following an explosion in which he begins a fall to Earth. If he was in orbit he would have stayed in orbit, but the scene does get the film off to a rousing start. It’s almost like the first scene in a James Bond film in which he escapes from a dangerous situation and then the story begins.
Pratt is wonderfully effective having most of the film rely on his expressions rather than dialogue, because he spends much of the film alone searching for his lost father played sparsely by Tommy Lee Jones. We could compare the flow of the film to the George Clooney space saga Solaris. The action comes in spurts and not very often. Generally we are exploring the thoughts of McBride his life and limited relationship with his father. This is the direct opposite of Sandra Bullock’s action turn in Gravity.
As McBride begins his journey which may be connected to his father’s disappearance, he is charged with defusing a powerful force that may have the capacity to destroy the solar system and maybe more.
The long dangerous journey to Neptune is nicely depicted by director Gray. At times it feels like we are looking out a window in space as the various vehicles McBride travels in pass through space on a long dull journey. Space travel between planets has little excitement unless something goes wrong. In this story much could fail, but it won’t, because that would end the film.
The ideas Gray presents for the Moon and especially Mars settlements are creative and interesting. There is even a tall cowboy standing over the community just like Los Vegas. The tunnels, shops and entertainment locations make sense for a newly settled land (planet). He even is forced to deal with pirates in the dry bland locations he must go to and from.
Un like Matt Damon in The Martian Pitt is not interested in returning to Earth he just keeps going deeper and deeper into space looking to discover what happened to his father over the last three decades. That is at times dangerous and violent but a return to Earth is not on his mind until the mystery is solved and dad is proven not to be responsible.
McBride is as lonely as his father, he is married but has no children probably because he is completely committed to work. At times he acts like a robot. His BP never rises about 80 no matter what the situation and he quietly shows determination to complete his task from the first scene on the satellite until he reaches Neptune. The journey does have an effect on him and that is resolved late in the film.
At times spiritual and philosophical we eagerly follow Pitt’s firm performance which is most effective. There are co-stars but this is strictly Pitt’s film. A quality film in both effects and performance it is limited in excitement. This is not a Star Wars or Star Trek and requires patience to watch. But that may not be enough to fill the box office.