Brad Pitt takes us to a much different view of an interplanetary future, while his Roy McBride battles the “sins of his father” trope in Ad Astra.
The idea of the sins of the father affecting their offspring has its roots in the bible. It’s a concept that we see manifest itself in many ways in real life and it is a common trope in different forms of media. One prime example that comes to mind is the character Dexter (from the show by the same name.) He never knew his father but he still inherited the darkness that defined both of them.
In Ad Astra, Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride is a decorated astronaut. However, not quite as decorated as his father. Throughout the movie every time Roy meets a new group of people his father comes up. He doesn’t resent his father for this, he’s an astronaut because he’s following in his footsteps. Over the course of the movie though, we’d learn more and more about Henry McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) and see Roy’s character change.
Ad Astra has a few fun moments but is mostly about a guy dealing with his issues surrounding his father. Issues he doesn’t seem to realize he has but learns over the course of the film. Not a bad movie but not a memorable one either.
Let’s start there. Brad Pitt’s performance, and the character, were completely forgettable. Roy McBride operates like a robot for most of the movie. Now this is intentional because McBride has shut himself off from emotion. When he joined NASA he left his girlfriend (which is shown to us at the beginning of the movie.) The perfect astronaut won’t have the distractions of a home life to weigh on his mind. So with that came his performance in the field.
Roy is famously calm under pressure. When he survives a near-death experience at the beginning of the film he is asked about how he managed to keep his heart at a resting rate the entire time. This was to make sure we realized just how calm he was I assume. There are several more of these intense situations where Roy is completely calm despite the fact that people around him are dying. He’s got things under control and he is able to solve massive problems on the fly.
However, as he gets closer and closer to potentially coming face-to-face with a father he always thought was dead, and now thinks may be alive, he starts to show a little emotion here and there. He starts to do more than just react and becomes more of a man of action. I can’t say much more about this without spoiling the movie but his emotional development is the main thing I took from the film. That it’s those human connections that make life worth living essentially.
With that said, because of the character and the main thing they appear to want us to get, Ad Astra had every reason to be a completely boring film. It managed to avoid that by keeping things interesting around Roy. Again, Roy was forgettable but the moments he experiences are very memorable.
Within the first 10 minutes of the film we get a space disaster, the near death experience I mentioned before. Obviously Roy survives this but it’s intense and sets the tone. Every 20 minutes or so there is an intense moment to break up any chance for monotony. This was well executed and, though I won’t spoil them here, each of these action sequences are worth talking about. They were all futuristic but made to feel as raw and grounded as possible. There were no over-the-top effects or “wow” moments designed to blow you away. It was all matter-of-fact and highlighted the fragility of life and how little control we’d really have on this new frontier.
This is life
This rolls directly into my favorite thing about Ad Astra. Often, movies about space and the future want to go out of their way to make you feel their future. They make the characters describe things way more than they should and they present new areas as if the characters are just seeing this technology for the first time.
In Ad Astra, characters move through their futuristic worlds as if they’re normal because, to them, they are! It was very refreshing to see the future world handled this way. It feels small but if I am a stickler for any detail it’s things like this. I also enjoyed that they did spend time on Earth but not much. The movie is very much to the point.
I can’t lie. I didn’t love Ad Astra. It’s definitely not a movie I’d recommend to just anyone but I did get it. I’ll stop short of relating to it but I understand Roy and the way he developed over the course of the movie.
I wish women had more than 5 minutes of screen-time in the movie but I get it, it was about Roy McBride. Perhaps I’m being selfish there because I like Ruth Negga but I digress. Ad Astra did what it set out to do and that’s all they can ask for. Just don’t go into this one expecting to leave energized.