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Film Review: Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra (2019) is a space drama set in the near future and is gaining a lot of critical love and attention. Directed by James Gray, he brings back Brad Pitt to star in another one of his films after working together in World War Z. Other stars in this film include Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler. 30 years after the expedition to Neptune that astronaut Clifford McBride (Jones) took and got lost in, it is up to his son Roy (Pitt) to try and make contact with him in order to protect the universe.

Ad Astra (2019) – source: 20th Century Fox

I will start out on a positive here, and mention the obvious in that the cinematography and visual effects are stunning. In terms of an aesthetic and cohesive look to a film, this may just be the best of 2019. There are so many frames you can pull out of this film and put straight onto a poster, that is how good they look. I never felt that a frame was out of place or a piece of visual effect was done cheaply or looked fake, I fully bought into the world that was presented.

The visuals are boosted by the world-building of this film, which is incredibly inventive and quite clever in its set-up. Despite being set in the “near-future”, we are presented with a world in which people can travel on holiday to the moon. Seems like something that is completely out of reach in this time and day, but we buy into this idea purely because of the set-up and how effective the visuals are to match this strong idea.
However, you can have a beautifully crafted world and a stunning visual film, but if there is no strong story or character development it can get lost. There is one main character here, Roy McBride, and he is written to have little to no real character development, and only one main problem that is filled with metaphors. Brad Pitt gives a good performance for what he is given, yet it almost feels wasted on a character that physically cannot emote any emotion. His character is purely focused on a family issue, and even when it is resolved I still felt no emotion for his character or the journey he went through.

Ad Astra (2019) – source: 20th Century Fox

I did not care for this heavy-metaphorical story at all, and that is because the journey felt completely forced. There are only three exciting sequences in this film, all of which happen in the first half, and none of them added anything to the story for me. It was as if they saw this film in the editing room, realised how little action and drama there was, and then added those sequences in re-shoots. Despite being my favourite moments in the film, they actually ruined the pacing and structure of the film and I could have done without any of them.
If you are interested in seeing what other actors in here do, you will be disappointed in their screen time. This is clearly the Brad Pitt show, with a commentary from him running through basically every scene. This commentary feels pointless, repetitive and gets incredibly annoying easily. With that, you maybe get two lines at most from Liv Tyler (acting more as a visual representation for Roy on his journey), and only one to two scenes with Ruth Negga. I really cannot give a strong opinion on either performance here, as it added almost nothing to the film, particularly Tyler’s role.
This film is incredibly slow for a two hour film, and is definitely classified as a slow burner. I don’t usually mind slow-burners, but as long as they have something going for them. I do not need every element of a film to be crammed into one, such as an array of characters, stories, side-plots and themes, just give me a select few of those and do them well. This film to me had no strong characters, a weak father-to-son relationship, a simple yet lack-lustred plot and two hours of basically forced action and no real entertainment for myself.
Ad Astra (2019) – source: 20th Century Fox
After hearing great buzz and critical love for this film, I am sad to say that I have been completely disappointed in Ad Astra. This was a two-hour film that felt like three, a lot of scenes felt unnecessary and the writing here felt one-beat and too restricted. If you are into metaphorical, thought-provoking films, I can see why this may be up your street. For me though, this was just lack-lustred and the advertising campaign really did not do this film any favours for the general audience. 

Have you had a chance to see Ad Astra yet? Do you agree with my score, or are you somebody that loved the direction of this film? Let me know in the comments section below and let’s have a discussion.

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