‘Ad Astra’ is a thoughtful, slow-burning sci-fi film that will click for space-minded teens.
Kernel Rating: 4 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This sci-fi film stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut trying to find his father in space. Astronauts take pills to deal with the stress of space travel; an animal breaks free and attacks astronauts in a bloody, violent scene; characters are killed in various fight scenes, including a shoot-out on the Moon, and during explosions that destroy international space stations; we see corpses floating in space. Some cursing; mentions of a failed marriage and parents who have died. Overall, the themes are best for teens.
By Roxana Hadadi
How far would you go to save the world? We’ve seen threats of humanity’s destruction before, most often in comic book movies like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” but “Ad Astra” takes a different take. The slow-burner sci-fi film is more cerebral than action-packed, but the questions the film raises about what we inherit from our parents and what we owe our fellow human beings are complex and emotional.
In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt plays astronaut Roy McBride, whose career with U.S. Space Command is highly decorated. Some time in the “near future,” space travel to the Moon and the rest of our solar system is almost commonplace, and McBride has spent years among the stars. And he’s in space when a surge of energy comes out of nowhere and hits an international space station, causing the power to go out and killing numerous people onboard—as well as thousands on Earth.
Where are the power surges coming from? U.S. Space Command has a theory, a highly classified one, and they want McBride to investigate. That investigation would send McBride into some of the furthest corners of space in search of a long-missing figure: His father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who was one of the pioneering astronauts in the American government’s space program. A legend and a hero, heralded by Americans for the work he did in space looking for intelligent life, H. Clifford disappeared when Roy was a young man.
Could he be alive? Could whatever he’s doing in space be affecting Earth, all these miles away? In secret, Roy is to go to the Moon, to Mars, and then further out into space to find out. And along the way, Roy—whose lack of emotion has so far been perfect for his job, although it broke up his marriage—begins to reassess how much of his life he spent trying to mold himself after his father.
“Ad Astra” is quite often gorgeous: The recreations of the Moon, Mars, and other planets are simultaneously quite stark (utilitarian, cement buildings) and lush (bright, luminescent colors), and teens into astronomy and space will be thrilled by these images. And the narration from Pitt, whose character spends much of the film reconsidering his own choices and his own identity, is often thought-provoking. The movie makes clear that he’s molded himself into someone who almost exclusively follows orders but has never prioritized his own feelings and emotions, and a question to discuss with teens after viewing “Ad Astra” is which method of behavior they think was more morally correct. As a member of the U.S. military, is it Roy’s responsibility to always do what they want? At what point does individual decision making become more important?
“Ad Astra” starts off with a bang and peppers exciting scenes throughout the film, but this sci-fi effort is not action-packed; it’s more in line with “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” which also considered questions of family legacy and self-will alongside space exploration. It’s a slow-burner, and might be too leisurely paced for certain viewers. But for young fans of this genre in particular, “Ad Astra” is another thought-provoking effort about the limits of our world and the promise of the stars.
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