I just want to start by saying I didn’t want to watch this film. It’s not that the film looked bad, cheesy, or uninteresting, but I don’t exactly have an affinity for a typical-seeming space adventure.
Gravity was cool to see on the big screen, but not on a television. Life was all nihilism and no hope. Ad Astra seemed like somewhere in-between Deep Impact and Space Cowboys.
It’s time to admit that I was wrong to doubt this film.
James Gray‘s newest film thrusts Brad Pitt into the eternal void from which there is no escape except a good ol’ fashioned cathartic father-son relationship.
Roy McBride (Pitt) is an accomplished astronaut living in the somewhere near future, where commercial flights to the moon and Mars are no longer atypical (thanks, Richard Branson). Following a fatal accident where he was one of the only survivors, McBride is brought in by Space Command (ahem, *The Space Force*) to take part in a super secret mission.
In this futuristic world, electrical charges bombard Earth from somewhere in the solar system. The worst part is that the US government believe Roy’s father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), is responsible.
Roy makes the inevitable hard decision, despite not believing that his father is still alive after almost 30 years in space, and heads to Mars to begin the mission. It’s basically Apocalypse Now, but in space!
Cool Space Stuff!
(Minor spoilers incoming!)
It would make sense that in the future travel to the moon and Mars would be accessible to nearly everyone with enough money to do so (Roy even pays $125 for a pillow and blanket en route). Given the protagonist’s roots, nearly the entire movie takes place in space, Space Command, or on board some interstellar vessel. We have very minimal idea how abnormal the rest of the world is aside from the electrical crisis.
When McBride lands on the moon as the first part of his mission, we see obnoxious neon signs more normally associated with the inner cities of the Blade Runner universe. Hell, even a Subway sandwich location is stationed on the moon!
In case you were wondering, there will be space pirates in the future.
While McBride is escorted to where he is to be rocketed from the moon to Mars, his team is harassed by roving space marauders. Just as George Miller predicted, natural and material resources are scarce and worth fighting over in the future.
En route to Mars, his new crew receives a mayday signal from a Norwegian bio-medical station halfway to their destination. McBride doesn’t really want to jeopardize the mission, but he allows the crew to answer the distress signal. McBride and the captain go aboard only to be assailed by lab babboons (labboons, for short). Captain Tanner dies at the tiny hands of a labboon and McBride narrowly escapes.
The first half of this film had me hooked and completely willing to go further into this odyssey into space. Thankfully, Hal-9000 was not on board.
Catharsis and the Final Frontier
As aforementioned, I wasn’t terribly excited to see this film. However, seemingly minute-by-minute, the movie grew on me as I felt legitimately connected to Roy’s plight. While the action-filled first half hooked me in, the cathartic journey of Roy McBride searching for his father made him relatable enough for me to want to follow him. Personally, I have a weakness for films where parents and their children are reunited, regardless how it turns out. This particular film isn’t exactly heart-warming, but that generates empathy for Roy. We want to believe that Clifford is capable of being redeemed and that hope makes us hold on.
Pitt does an impeccable job in this movie, allowing Roy’s emotion to boil over in a natural way, especially due to his repressed feelings. Tommy Lee Jones’ role as Clifford is equally effective, making the audience empathize with him, despite knowing the atrocities he is responsible for. The acting here makes the reunion that much more powerful. Plus, it’s hard not to love Tommy Lee Jones as a futuristic Colonel Kurtz.
The stark contrast between the two halves of this film gives us the roller-coaster ride we didn’t know we wanted. Is the movie a space adventure? Is it a sad movie about a boy and his father? A world-ending film that’s better than The Core? Technically, all of those things are true and that’s awesome. There is enough about this film that makes it stand apart from typical films of the genre.
This is a film that certainly cements its place into the pantheon of great space movies, one that carefully straddles the line between being a believable science fiction and a unique disaster film.
The endless void demands your viewing of this film.