Movie Guru: ‘Ad Astra’ prepares for liftoff only to crash and burn
‘Ad Astra” feels like it’s three and a half hours long. The movie actually clocks in at a few minutes over two hours, but it’s hard to believe that when you’re sitting in the theater. After an hour or so of watching Brad Pitt stand in hallways looking sad, listening to him describe via voiceover just how sad he really is, you’ll wonder if there’s something wrong with your watch. When he starts looking sad in a spaceship that appears to be one room big, or a Mars base that has a whopping two hallways, you may start to wonder if the movie is doing actual damage to the space-time continuum.
You may also wonder, as I did, what exactly the thought process was that led to this movie. Though there are some interesting ideas buried deep in the middle of it, the bulk of “Ad Astra” feels like the longest, most boring therapy session ever filmed. The supporting cast (except for the reliably deranged Tommy Lee Jones) gets minuscule walk-on roles designed solely to deliver some nugget of information to Pitt’s character. The action scenes, including the nose-eating space monkey (spoiler alert), appear abruptly, only to fall flat almost immediately. The entire effect is like bad college theater with a weirdly big budget.
The movie starts with a sad Brad Pitt, who explains via voiceover that he’s an astronaut in the semi-near future with a famous, dead astronaut dad and a truckload of personal issues. He falls off an enormous space tower during an EMP blast that killed a ton of people, and his space bosses think his dead dad did it. They want him to try and contact his father so they can find out where he’s hiding, and promptly send Pitt on a ridiculously long, slow journey to do just that. During this time, Brad Pitt’s character discovers the truth about his father and continues to drone on about his melancholy.
Honestly, it would have made a good short film. There’s some genuinely interesting ideas in here that almost seem like a direct response to Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” While the earlier film was about a dad who abandoned his kid to go off and do important things in space, “Ad Astra” dwells on the trauma of a kid left behind by a very similar father. I would have loved to see that explored in a shorter format, perhaps one where he actually had more than one extended conversation with literally anyone.
If they’d made it a horror movie, “Ad Astra” might have even made a decent 90-minute film. The movie’s long stretches of nearly silent waiting, and the desperate need it creates in the audience for something to happen, would have been perfect to exploit. If there’d been a real threat at any point, one that actually made sense given everything that had come before, I would have jumped straight out of my seat.
Instead, I was at serious risk of falling asleep. The only thing that kept me awake was a desperate hope that the movie would end up doing something significant, or at least something interesting.
I was left waiting.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.