It’s the near future. Humans are trying to reach out to extraterrestrial life. Veteran astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is working high up on an antenna built with the sole purpose of trying to communicate with aliens. And when I mean high up, Roy is literally in full astronaut gear, as this thing reaches from the Earths surface, all the way up into space! Suddenly, a mysterious power surge hits the antenna, triggering a series of explosions and sending other astronaut workers tumbling. Roy manages to leap between a few levels in order to shut off the power, but he eventually has no choice other than abandon the structure and tumble down to Earth. Obviously, he makes it, but it’s an impressive, intense opening – beautifully staged and shot and indicative of the kind of quality to come for the rest of the movie.
Fully recovered, and ready for debriefing, Roy learns that the power surge is one of many which are now hitting the Earth and threatening the stability of the solar system. Furthermore, it is believed that Roy’s father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who embarked on a deep space mission some 30 years ago, is responsible for the surges. All contact was lost with that ship and it’s crew 16 years into their mission, known as The Lima Project, and the source of these surges is the region surrounding Neptune. Roy has been selected to send a message to his father in the hopes that he might respond and help to prevent further catastrophic surges.
Roy is a loner, committed to his work above all else. In an early scene we see his wife (Liv Tyler) walking out on him while he carries out a psych evaluation for work. He comes across as cold, distant and uncaring, and his pessimistic narration throughout the movie gives us a real insight into his character and history. He’s proved that he can keep his cool under pressure, always maintaining a low blood pressure, but suddenly losing his father 30 years ago has obviously resulted in some serious daddy issues for Roy. Issues which these latest events now bring to the forefront.
The message Roy must send to his father needs to be transmitted by laser from Mars to Neptune, so Roy must first travel to the moon and then onward to Mars. This being the near future, space travel has now been commercialised, so fairly easy to just hop on a flight, and the moon is now a hive of human activity – there’s even a Subway restaurant there for hungry travellers arriving from Earth! As Roy makes his way across the moon, to the rocket which will take him to Mars, we learn about it’s colonisation and the disputes that occur there involving the countries of Earth. Consequently, Roy’s journey is not without peril.
What is so incredible about the time we spend on the moon, and then Mars, is just how plausible and realistic it all feels. For the most part, I was totally mesmerised by it all – fully engrossed in what is an epic space adventure into the unknown, desperate to find out how it was all going to end. After emerging as one of the highlights of an otherwise disappointing movie recently in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, Brad Pitt once again shows us just what a real star he is. Outstanding.
Despite the beautiful cinematography, the engrossing storyline and the occasional bursts of action though, Ad Astra is a real slow burn of a movie, which won’t be for everyone. What let the movie down for me was the last 20 minutes or so, which proved to be something of an anticlimax in my opinion. However, this is still an incredible movie, held together by an amazing actor and some beautiful visual storytelling.