Ad Astra (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Having finally reached our destination and spent nearly a week with family, it was time to fly back home. The flight to our destination was marked with a five hour delay in what amounted to a 2 and 1/2 hour flight and afforded me the opportunity to catch up on a couple of films (Starcrash and The Lighthouse).

As we usually do when flying, we arrived at the airport early and made it through security relatively quickly and got to our gate. Soon enough, the airplane was there, visible in its position awaiting our boarding. We still had a little time and had a light meal before returning to the terminal and wait for boarding.

…and wait…

and wait

The hour of departure was coming very close and while we saw the luggage placed within the aircraft, it didn’t seem like there was any movement toward letting passengers in.

Then we received the message: The Captain wanted to check something out with the engines and passengers weren’t allowed on the craft during the wait and yadda yadda. The ground crew moved away from the aircraft, the plane was left alone on the tarmac, and then the Captain revved up the engines a few times before shutting them down.

Then all was quiet.

…and we waited some more…

Finally, the bad news came, some hour after we were supposed to already be in the air: There was some mechanical problem so we were going to be using another aircraft that was en route to our location and we wouldn’t be boarding for another couple of hours until then.

We were, to say the least, livid.

We had so much free time that we decided to have an early supper (as I stated before, the previous food we had was more of a light snack).

We got back to the boarding area to see our airplane look like this…

Yeah, the airport fun this time around, eh?

Another few hours pass and then we get the news that they fixed whatever was wrong with the engine and we’d be boarding soon.

Yeah, another five hour delay on a 2 and 1/2 hour flight.

The fun never stops, right?

Anyway, once on board the flight, we found that unlike the flight over, this one had a robust entertainment system and after checking out the various films available to be seen, I decided to see Ad Astra (you knew I’d get here eventually, no?).

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Featuring Brad Pitt in the role of Roy McBride, an astronaut who is the son of a very famous astronaut (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who went missing following an important mission some twenty years before.

McBride, we find, is a very unemotional man. This makes him a good astronaut as even in the most extreme emergencies he keeps his head and follows through on the mission. However, this unemotional facade hides deep cracks. His marriage is on the rocks and he doesn’t know how to deal with its break up. Part of his emotional vacuum is related to the loss of his father coupled with the complicated feelings he has for the man. He views him as a hero, yet the loss stings even to his adult age.

Odd electrical arcs descend upon Earth, causing considerable destruction and McBride is brought in for a top secret meeting. Turns out the electrical arcs are coming from further out in the Solar System, and the government fears their source is the scientific mission McBride’s father was on when he disappeared.

Then, the shocker: They think McBride’s father is still alive and, worse yet, is responsible for these electric attacks.

The news that his father might still be alive is a terrific blow to the stoic McBride. He is asked to fly to Mars and send a message to his father in the attempt to get some kind of response.

The reality is that Mission Control on Earth wants to get a location where the elderly McBride is so that they can take him, and the ship he’s in which is sending out the deadly electrical bursts, out.

When Ad Astra was making its way to theaters, there was talk this movie was a sci-fi version of the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, which itself was the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now.

The idea of a person going out to check on someone who has gone rogue/native is the heart (pardon the pun) of Ad Astra and Apocalypse Now so the similarity is not unmerited.

When the film was finally released, critics seemed to love it, giving the film a robust 84% positive on However, if you check out the reviews from audiences, they had a far more dim view of the film, giving it a pretty weak 40% positive score.

In fact, many of the commentary boards I frequent had people ripping the film, saying its terrifically boring or silly, that the whole “father issue” is played out too thickly and that the film simply was terrible.

Still, I was interested in seeing it and decided to do so during the very delayed flight.

Unfortunately, the viewed wasn’t optimal. The screen would freeze now and again for a few seconds which the movie played and there were interruptions from the Captain when we hit some turbulence (yeah, flight from hell, eh?) and later when multiple announcements were made that we were going to land.

Ad Astra is a long film, just over 2 hours in length, and as we were coming in for a landing I feared I’d miss the very ending. As it turned out, I just got to the credits when the wheels touched ground.

Lucky me!

Given all the irritants dealt with between the delay in the flight to the interruptions to the at times marred film presentation, what did I think of Ad Astra?

I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact!

Was the film perfect? No. At times they did lay the emotions -and lack thereof- on rather thick. There were several action sequences in the film which, while exciting on their own, were obviously put in place to keep the film’s forward momentum going. If you step back and think about it, several of those sequences could have been cut from the film itself without taking away from the central and main plot of the film.

Further, the whole electrical attacks on Earth (and later, Mars) were never explained to my satisfaction. How exactly does a scientific vessel create these electric waves and shoots them out at Earth?

For that matter, why would the elderly McBride do this exactly? I mean, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, he’s lost his mind and engaged in some very horrific actions. However, the scientific vessel he was commanding didn’t seem to be engaged in experimenting with electrical waves… so how come he’s using them now? Why is he firing them off toward Earth and Mars?

Those are the film’s negatives.

If you can look past them, however, you have a hypnotic film that puts you in the younger McBride’s shoes. You long for the lost contact with McBride’s father. You feel the frustration of his inability to express his emotions and the (paradoxical) fear of what he will find when he eventually goes in search of his father.

Ad Astra isn’t a shallow space opera with laser beams and fighting ships. It isn’t Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers and it most certainly isn’t Star Wars and I think that was in part why so many reacted negatively to the film.

What Ad Astra is is a more cerebral, introspective film with a few action sequences which carry things along. It wants the audience to sit back and admire the wonder of space and the hurt of isolation and loss.

In that, it succeeds, and for that reason I recommend it.

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