Who doesn’t love a good old science fiction space film? There have been a few, Gravity, Interstellar and of course my personal favourite, The Martian. So I was looking forward to checking out the latest space movie, Ad Astra.
Ray McBride (played by Brad Pitt) is an astronaut who follows in his famous father’s footsteps. His father, Clifford McBride (played by Tommy Lee Jones)is revered by all for his space research and is given the assignment to captain the Lima project to find out if there is any life out there. The mission is sent to the edge of the solar system and there’s been no contact for over sixteen years until a series of power surges strong enough to threaten human life occurs. The authorities believe the source of the surges comes from the Lima project space station somewhere near Neptune. So begins Roy’s mission to reach his father, stop the power surges and at the same time, deal with his feelings of abandonment and loss and work out why he can’t maintain a relationship with anyone especially his ex-wife Eve (played by Liv Tyler).
The opening of the film shows Roy climbing some sort of scaffold which is high enough in the earth’s atmosphere to warrant a spacesuit. Extraordinarily, the scaffold seems to be rising up from the earth which would be one hell of a climb. A surge shakes the structure and Roy falls. Luckily he has a parachute and although falling pieces of metal damage the parachute as he plummets to earth, he somehow survives virtually unscathed. But let’s move on.
The setting is described as some time in the near future but the commercial Virgin flight to the Moon and the fifteen hundred people living on Mars tells you it might be set in fifty plus years. Donned in a space suit, Roy asks the Virgin hostess for a blanket pack and she shoots back by telling him that’ll cost him $125. Why he needed a blanket over his space suit, I don’t know.
Once Roy reaches the Moon he has to take a rocket from a top-secret location to Mars. He and an old friend of his dad’s Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) are escorted in moon buggies across rugged terrain to the top-secret rocket site and of course, are chased by moon pirates. Why? I don’t know. Did it add to the tension? It only added to the implausibility. Of course, everyone dies and with Roy taking over the driving he and the Colonel manage to get there in one piece. Or did they? Why someone like Colonel Pruitt who must be eighty-five plus and barely able to walk is accompanying Roy is strange? Now I’m not trying to be ageist but I’d imagine peak physical and mental fitness would be a given to work in space. Surely Pruitt would have hung up his spacesuit years ago.
Anyway, Pruitt can’t go to Mars – he has to have an operation and of course, he isn’t fit. Space Alert! He was never fit! Roy heads off to Mars as a VIP in the secret space rocket. On the way, the Captain receives a mayday call from a Norwegian biomedical research space station. He decides to investigate but the co-pilot is too scared to spacewalk over and knock on the door, so Roy volunteers. After a tussle with a couple of mutant apes, Roy comes back to the ship with the dead Captain. After a funeral, a few words to God and jettisoning the body, the co-pilot proceeds to Mars only to freeze in fear when another power surge shakes the ship so they can’t land. You guessed it! Good ol’ Roy takes over because he can basically do everything.
Once on Mars, Roy’s mission is meant to end when he records a message to his father in the hope the authorities can trace where the old man is and finish him off. Why Roy had to go to Mars to do this simple task is anybody’s guess. Technology can get a rocket to Mars it seems, but not a recorded message.
Of course, Roy has to get off Mars, appropriate another rocket, accidentally kill a few crew members, including the scaredy-cat co-pilot, (whoops) and head to Neptune in seventy-nine days to find his father, nuke his ship, stop the surges and bring the old man home to face the music. How does a little spaceship in Neptune create powerful enough surges to almost wipe out the human race? Who the hell knows?
You’ve got to take an enormous leap of faith with this movie and I guess that’s the same for all space movies. But in this case, the leap is much larger than most. Throw away all logical rationale and those pesky questions for which you will get no answers and enjoy the ride through the beauty that is the solar system. The effects are as you would expect, the acting is strong enough and the dialogue is sparse with lots of close-ups of Brad’s face and a tear or two.
This really is a story about a man’s conflicted feelings about his father, his boyhood hero. He just happens to be dealing with it in space. In all those days of space travel, Roy has plenty of time to ponder on his relationships trying to come to terms with who he is and who he wants to be.
You’ll have to check it out if you want to know if he makes peace with his dad, if anyone can really hear you scream in space and if the Lima mission really did find out if there was anyone else out there. I’ll leave it to you to decide.