I’ve always considered this dude (James Gray) as a contender for becoming the next household name in modern-day cinema. His previous piece The Lost City of Z (an emblem for classic films like Apocalypse Now) was inches away from being a masterpiece and showed that the director was more than capable of reaching a legendary status.
Ad Astra is James Gray once again proving that he’s a gifted prodigy amidst an industry dominated by half-assers who have lost creative vision and have become victimized to Hollywood’s financial-based standards. Gray does something perilous within this high-budget, blockbuster-sold project that might have executives up in arms due to the unavoidably mixed response it’s likely to receive because of it. Gray decides that Ad Astra, during a time when the American majority would rather see space aliens fighting space people fighting space superheroes fighting space robots fighting etc. than narratives ringed with introspective substance, should be a physiological piece written on the boundaries of fatherhood, of mortality, of legacy, and of anything opposing the dense habitat of conventional fiction schlock.
The enthralling space excerpts in Ad Astra are, indeed, some of cinema’s most imposing. Hoyte van Hoytema (who also did wonders on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar) has outdone himself by crafting his finest looking composition yet; he makes the cosmos appear like a psychosomatic nightmare rather than a fact-driven concept. But, these moments of tense, gripping space sequences are secondary to the heart of Ad Astra. James Gray and Ethan Gross’s screenplay is presented indistinguishable to (theoretically) a short piece novella written by some seasoned philosopher who’s been sabotaged by ancestral drama. The screenplay flourishes primarily in Brad Pitt’s character’s (Roy McBride’s) narration, which I’d consider to be the apex of this entire adventure.
Ad Astra is not only a critique on human nature but a critique on human desires. We send men and women into space to die, yet, the consequences seem prudent in the perspective of these individuals we emancipate. The film treats space as a curse; a long endless escape to close ourselves off from the “real world”—a place we’ve grown to hate. Ad Astra sees our protagonist leaping through tragic obstacles that he cannot help but parallel to his own cynical beliefs, beliefs that have him questioning existence, beliefs that have him questioning his own self. Is he simply a spray-painted mirror, tinted to near black (a reflection of his father’s legacy) or is he an individual that can usher a path of his own that isn’t haunted by the lack and devastation of isolation? Ad Astra is a vital analysis on how we interpret lineage.
The only omissions that gravitate Ad Astra away from being a “flawless masterpiece” are minor, but worth mentioning. The movie does present intensely directed action spectacles that are glorious to stomach but do at times feel sporadically jammed in just so that our narrator can use the situation(s) as a way of incorporating more commentary. These sequences are testing, absolutely, but I just wish they were stitched together more patiently and fluidly. Furthermore, the narrative’s exposition is a bit heavy-handed in parts, to say the least. There is additionally one obvious plot convenience towards the third act of Ad Astra that was slightly unwarranted.
Nevertheless, I will in all likelihood be thinking about Ad Astra for some time now. It’s lodged deep into my brain now; it’s toyed with my subconscious—something a soul-stirring movie should always do. I will be judging, I will be loathing, and I will be interrogating…us…a lot harder now that I’ve seen this fiendish wonder. Thanks?
It already ticks me off knowing that most audience members are going to trick themselves into thinking that this movie (like High Life) is “boring.”
But you know what? Whatever. You normies can have fun submitting to sci-fi movies like Ridley Scott’s critically overrated The Martian—a movie stuffed with synthetic gags and vanilla science facts to make up its two-hour runtime. Movies like Ad Astra that want to be emotionally challenging? Who cares about them? GIMEEE ACTION AND SOULLESS CRAP BECAUSE I AM A RO-BOT.
Interstellar reads: Let’s use themes of family and love to explain space and science.
Ad Astra reads: Let’s use space and science as word-painting to enhance themes of family and love.
There’s a difference, believe it or not. And I like one strategy over the other too. That’s my two cents, I suppose.
– Evan, signing off.
“Ad Astra” will be released in theaters September 20, 2019.