"Ad Astra" Review: Killer Baboons, Moon Buggy War Zones, and Space Travel as a Walk in the Park

So I caught the new Ad Astra film last night, and in my best snarky Bill-Murray-as-Film-Critic-on-SNL mode I’ll quip: It’s like Apocalypse Now meets 2001: A Space Odyssey with a spritz of Alien. I’ll confess I’ve never been a big Brad Pitt fan (him pretty boy syndrome, me jealous) but I thought he was excellent (though I liked him even better in the climactic scene of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), stoic and believable as a emotionally damaged astronaut struggling to land a spaceship on the fly, while he hunts his Dad to save humankind, among other things.
The setup: sometime in the near future, the planet is in great peril. (Isn’t it always?) War is ongoing and pervasive—in the Arctic, among other places, as well as on the moon (Thanks, Trump!). An antimatter thingamajig/glitch is threatening to destroy our solar system, and NASA or its ilk blames Brad Pitt’s father, Tommy Lee Jones, who is far, far away, trying to contact other intelligent life forms. (To see if they support impeachment, perchance? Glad it’s not Clint Eastwood in that spaceship.)
It would be a crime to give away all the secrets of this film, but I’ll offer this praise: It’s full of surprises, most of them good. You don’t really know what’s going to happen from one scene/event to the next. It does a great job of withholding explanations, but giving the audience just enough info to ground us, while filling the story full of mystery. At times I laughed when you weren’t supposed to, but perhaps that’s me. (For instance, when Pitt says, “Hi, Dad,” to Tommy Lee Jones, gritty and full of astronauty gravitas.) The ending was a little gooey for my tastes, true. And it makes a trip from here to Neptune and back seem slightly longer and more difficult than one to Disneyworld from Chicago, but so it goes. If you like space movies of a thoughtful nature, such as Interstellar (2014) or Arrival (2016), you’ll dig it.

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