Ad Astra is good bordering on great, but it has the exact opposite problem of Interstellar
There is a lot to like to Pitt's new space drama... but...
Space is far from the final frontier anymore.
If you're taking an audience into space, then you'd better have a pretty good reason, because the last thing we want is to get excited about taking off, only to discover it is something we had before, and had better.
Which isn't to say that Ad Astra is without its merits, and there are plenty of them, but all the amazing visuals and spectacular world-building and great performances can only go so far if you can't emotionally engage with anyone.
Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who is caught up in global catastrophe known only as The Surge, a potentially world-ending weapon that seems to be fired from Neptune, which was the last known location of Pitt's assumed dead father (Tommy Lee Jones), who had been sent to the furthest spot of our solar system to search for extraterrestrial life.
Hoping a message from his son will coerce him into turning the weapon off, Pitt is sent on a top-secret mission to potentially find his father, and in the process, save mankind.
It is something suitably simultaneously huge and intimate, the vast void of space mirroring the spot in Pitt's heart where his father's love should have gone, and it all looks incredible. Director and co-writer James Gray knows his way around emotionally complicated dramas (We Own The Night, The Immigrant, The Lost City Of Z), so it did seem like a bizarre choice for him to go the sci-fi route, but he handles it with aplomb.
Hiring the DoP from Interstellar sure helps, fantastically capturing some beautiful space vistas, matched wonderfully with Max Ritcher's (Taboo, The Leftovers) icy score.
However, Gray also veers wildly into Armageddon territory, which includes a shoot-out on the Moon, some Gravity-esque, nail-biting jet-pack precision flying and a visit to a spaceship sending a distress signal that ends in a way you'd never guess in a million years. These bombastic scenes are great and hugely entertaining, but don't dock well with the search-for-a-father's-love drama that it is pinned to.
It leads to an episodic adventure, one that sees Pitt pick up some co-stars - including Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, and a flashback-only Liv Tyler - for single sequences, and then drop them for the next bit. It is tie into how alone and isolated Pitt is supposed to be on his journey, but that closed-off emotionality is done almost TOO well, making Ad Astra a very difficult movie to warm to.
Be impressed by? Absolutely. Be entertained by? Sure, in some scenes way more so that others. But, in the opposite problem to Interstellar, which used love like a cricket bat (which, in hindsight, was a massive try-hard turn-off), here love is something very far away, almost perpetually juuuuust out of reach.
Ad Astra is released in Irish cinemas from Wednesday 18 September.
Clip via 20th Century Fox Ireland