Ad Astra ★★★★½

Dad Astra, okay? Let's get the pithy snickers out of the way. Yes, Ad Astra is essentially traveling the lengths of space to let go of father issues, an ethereal representation of the length internal work it requires to untie a father's instillment of ideas of failure and emotional distance, but it is so stunningly rendered that even its minor glitches feel purposeful. Every single set piece—the lunar chase, the red soundproof room on Mars, the underground lake, the push through Neptune’s rings—is just stunning. And for anyone who's watched James Gray before, all of his movies boil down to parental desires and the new generation "failing" to get where they're pressured to go. That Gray was able to do this with a major studio budget and given more than a year to complete the visual effects is just a huge blessing. Please see this on the biggest screen possible. Ad Astra is an original and not beholden to meeting a specific release date so it could keep getting pushed until everything looked seamless.

Ad Astra is chilly and distant, emotionally, but purposefully always drawn to the next stage of the mission. It's about men who cannot connect and push themselves to the literal outer limits because of it. There are extra wrinkles, here, however, such as humankind replicating the worst parts of itself in space—the Moon is dotted with sandwich franchises and retail chains, there are resource wars throughout the galaxy outposts—and a distrust in governmental agencies who don't tell the full breadth of a mission, coverup misdeeds, and use Roy McBride's family lineage (Brad Pitt to Tommy Lee Jones) to get a potential response from Neptune, where harmful energy blasts are coming from. I also love that the psych evaluations are performed by A.I. as monitoring health, making open admissions to a non-human easier than humans simply because it’s just filed away as complete. And Pitt and Jones are a great father-son pair because Pitt, Tree of Life onward, has shed his romantic leading man and become an actor like Jones himself, where more is said in silence and the internal life that wears on his face, than in his dialogue or narration. And it's wholly appropriate for this film. Roy’s body runs like a machine but when the enterprise that runs that machine (NASA) blocks him from the emotional release he needs, his fortress of perfect heart rate and measured emotional responses collapses. Like his heart rate, he must go off grid to achieve his own needs.

There are many quick dad jokes that can be made, but they're a disservice to such a gorgeous big screen picture that wrestles with big ideas; it balances being incredibly big and incredibly small, just like our world. As such, Ad Astra is worthy of beaming to the stars. Even if we are alone.

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