This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
rockerest’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Ad Astra is a story about a man struggling to come to terms with his own flaws, his loneliness, and his façade of calm and control over his internal reality of self-doubt, self-loathing, and depression. The story is deeply connected to the idea of family and love, but also abandonment and pain. It's about how important goals and passion drive people to hurt those around them. It's a story about how the need to discover - to be the first - can overwhelm rationality.
There's also a small B plot where he gets in a car chase on the moon, goes to Mars, climbs up the outside of a rocket right as it's launching, kills everyone on board that ship, kills two monkeys in space, finds a science vessel orbiting Neptune that's been missing for almost two decades, kills his father, blows up that science vessel, and rides the antimatter reaction wave to propel himself to Earth. It's not really very important to the story.
Ad Astra is visually incredible. Absolutely A+ cinematography. It sounds phenomenal. The sound and music are mixed perfectly, and everything is really great. It does strain believability a bit with how much sound is transferred through space, but I suppose there could be some explanations, and it's really a small gripe anyway.
With the exception of Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Pitt, the acting in this movie was... strange. It felt intentionally stilted and at times staccato. Given how dreamlike this entire movie felt, I'm very confident this was a directorial and/or screenplay decision. I didn't hate it, but it was odd and surreal, so merited at least mentioning.
Speaking of the directing, I think it was pretty fine. There was nothing that really drew my attention either good or bad, so I think it was fine.
I think this movie's biggest flaw was its script. It just felt flat. It was hard to care about anything. The B plot (heh sorry, it's the main plot mechanism for the whole movie), kept me very interested. He starts on Earth, and then a disaster gets him a special Top Secret mission. He goes to the Moon, and get more troubling information. He goes to Mars and gets even more troubling information. The trickle of information given to both Roy (Pitt) and the audience is timed well and keeps you hooked the whole time. But. That doesn't excuse the bad character development and unexplainable decisions. The guy who killed his entire crew (dozens? hundreds?) because they wanted to end the mission decides to leave with his son when he touches his hand immediately after telling him he never loved him? Maybe he did this so he could commit suicide by flying off into space, but like... why? I suppose an argument could be made that H. Clifford (Jones) really does love his son, knows that he won't leave without him, and doesn't want him to die in the detonation, so he concocts this ruse to get him out of the ship. But it's really not a great ruse regardless because after all that, it still depends on Clifford begging Roy to let him go (by quite literally repeating "Let me go. Let me go."). It's just nonsensical.
I do appreciate that a better script and better character development could have resulted in a 4 hour movie. That's why there are professional screenwriters to make that 2 hours but without losing the qualities of a good script.
In closing, I want to reiterate how much I liked Ad Astra. The surreal feel to the entire film and the exploration of a lot of different kinds of suffering and emotions really kept me on my toes the whole time. The premise for the whole film (the "B" plot) was wholly interesting in its own right. I wish this movie had a really rockin' script, because I think it easily could have been a 4.5 star movie.