*minor spoilers may follow for Ad Astra*
Well that was…different.
There is no doubt that 2019 has been a really good year for science-fiction films. There was Alita: Battle Angel waaaaay back in the first part of the year; then there was High Life and Aniara, both amazing films in their own right. And now as the year begins to turn towards the end, we have Ad Astra, a film that’s been in the pipeline for quite some time. Having seen a wide variety of science-fiction films, both this year and in years past, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Ad Astra. But I think I’ve been spoiled by all the action flicks I’ve been watching as of late, because I definitely wasn’t expecting what I saw.
First, let me make one thing crystal clear: Ad Astra is a good film, it really is. The visuals are stunning, the cinematography is on point, and I actually like the voice-over from Brad Pitt’s character. That being said, this film is a lot more…cerebral…than what I was expecting. There are a few beats of action here and there, but most of the story is devoted to much deeper issues. This is a film designed to make you think about what exactly it is you’re being told (maybe not as much as Annihilation, but headed in that same direction).
And what exactly are we meant to think of Ad Astra? What story is being given to us? Honestly, I’m still piecing that together, but I have managed to work out a few of the pieces. First of all, on the most simple level, Ad Astra looks at how humans affect outer space. The commercialization of the Moon, for example, was nailed so perfectly it physically hurt. There’s also the recurring trope, one I see in most science-fiction films, that points out in several ways that no matter how advanced our technology becomes, the lowest aspects of human nature (greed and a base desire for violence) will out in the end. But on that deeper level I alluded to before, Ad Astra looks at what outer space does to humans, in both good ways and bad. On the one hand, it’s not so bad to spend some time in the near infinite void, because it really gives you a sense of perspective for what matters (and this is what I believe happens to Brad Pitt’s character by the end). But on the other hand, there’s the opposite end of that spectrum, where humans become so wrapped up in exploring space that they forget where they came from, and are in fact driven to insanity after being in space for so long.
Those thinking points aside, I should mention that Ad Astra is not without its flaws, most notably in the realm of physics. After all these years, it astounds me that films are still being made that lean on long since debunked film tropes (the one that annoys me the most involves explosions in space creating shockwaves, which is impossible in a vacuum). I understand films need moments of action now and then, but surely there are ways to create these moments while still obeying the laws of physics. Also, I feel like one section of the plot was almost completely unnecessary (I mean that little side trip to the Vesta en route to Mars). The rest of the film can be neatly compartmentalized into my mind, all except that part. That part feels like a relic from an earlier draft of the script when the film was meant to go in an entirely different direction. Seriously, cut it out and I don’t think you’d have noticed the difference.
Even with those issues, Ad Astra is a good film. I get the sense that this is a film that will reveal different messages and ideas each time you watch it. Do be sure to see this on the big screen if you can, these visuals were meant to be seen in the theater. There’s so much more I could say, but I think I need further viewings first.
Let me know what you think about Ad Astra in the comments below and have a great day!
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