Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 2, 2019
I almost decided not to bother with this, but I want to tell you about this film so you don't have to go through the torture I experienced. I've only been to theaters a few times this year, seen several other films I didn't review, the latest in the MCU for instance. But I had been anticipating this for a while, hoping it would be satisfying. It's not. A few weeks back I saw a headline that went sort of like this, "Is Ad Astra the Last Chance for an Intelligent Science Fiction Film?" My response to that question now is Ad Astra doesn't qualify, since it is not intelligent science fiction. There is no science advisor listed in the credits, and it shows.
I don't recommend this, and I'm not going to worry about any spoilers. It looks pretty, lots of great sets, ship and space station designs, but none of that matters if the story is full of plot holes big enough to fly a Saturn V through them. It's an absolutely hush-hush, top secret mission, yet one of the Space Command officers (the way too-old for this story Donald Sutherland) is able to sneak a computer chip with incriminating evidence and give it to mission specialist Roy McBride (Brad Pitt). Roy believes that his father, Dr. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) died several years before during a mission to the far reaches of the solar system. Space Command has reason to believe he is still alive, and that he's a threat, with some implausible psuedo-science techno-babble I won't bother mentioning again. I hestitate to mention another wildly improbable event, a moon-buggy chase pitting "pirates" against the team racing to Farside to blast off to Mars. Roy is the sole survivor of that attack. Then he gets to Mars, after another stupid incident involving a Mayday call from a research station. Space Command wants him to attempt radio contact with his father. When Roy goes off script with his message, they tell him he's no longer needed for the mission, he'll be sent back to the moon, then Earth as soon as possible.
Well, the indomitable Roy McBride ain't gonna sit still for that, knowing now that his father is still alive, and he's got massive daddy issues to resolve. A sympathetic member of the Mars team (Ruth Negga) is able to commandeer a surface vehicle to get Roy near the rocket preparing to head out to Neptune. He goes down through a surface hatch, swims through an underground lake, and comes up just under the rocket's exhaust ports. With the countdown nearing completion he's able to climb a ladder and get into the ship. Wait. The airlock hatch isn't secured during launch?!? I won't go into the preposterous orbital maneuvers Roy goes through to get to his father's space station, in orbit of Neptune, then back to his ship for the return to Earth. And he does land on Earth, rather than Mars, a picture-perfect landing, and is almost immediately met by bare-handed crew people who are able to open the hatch on a vehicle that would have surely been extremely hot following its atmospheric descent. Trust me, this was not meant to be a comedy, but I continually had to stifle laughter and the urge to yell at the screen. Ad Astra is Latin for "To the stars." That's where this film belongs, blasted off into space never to return. Avoid it.
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