Should I watch Brad Pitt's space movie 'Ad Astra'?

Tom Beasley
Brad Pitt plays an astronaut on a mission to Neptune in 'Ad Astra'. (Credit: Fox)
Brad Pitt plays an astronaut on a mission to Neptune in 'Ad Astra'. (Credit: Fox)

‘Should I watch?’ provides a rounded look at one of the biggest films of the week. Drawing on critical responses and audience scores, this should help you decide whether it’s for you or not.

What’s it all about?

Ad Astra follows the journey of astronaut Roy McBride, who is sent on a mission towards Neptune in order to investigate strange power surges which are threatening the Earth. The surges have been traced to the last known location of the Lima Project — a research mission headed up by Roy’s father, who has been presumed dead for years.

Set in the near future, the film takes place at a time in which commercial flights to the moon are possible and the 2.7 billion-mile journey to Neptune takes only a couple of months.

The film has a 12A certificate from the BBFC for “infrequent strong language, moderate violence, threat and gory images” and runs for 123 minutes.

Who’s in it?

Brad Pitt plays the lead role of Major Roy McBride and Tommy Lee Jones portrays his wayward father. Pitt has been tipped for a potential Oscar nomination for his performance, but has said he will abstain from the campaign trail.

There are also supporting roles for Don’t Look Now icon Donald Sutherland, Russian Doll creator-star Natasha Lyonne and Preacher actor Ruth Negga, while Liv Tyler appears as Pitt’s wife.

The director behind the film is James Gray, whose most recent project was the Amazon exploration drama The Lost City of Z in 2016. That movie starred Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Spider-Man star Tom Holland.

What other films is it like?

The plot has plenty of similarities to the classic Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now and the thoughtful space travel at the centre of the story will appeal to fans of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

It’s also part of a heritage of recent space movies with a prestige feel, including last year’s Neil Armstrong biopic First Man and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, which won seven Oscars in 2014.

However Gray’s take on sci-fi is introspective and focused on the human being behind the space travel. It has few of the stylish flourishes and thrilling set pieces of Gravity — though there is at least one scene on the moon that has a touch of Mad Max about it — and is often more akin to the existential musings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

What are the critics saying?

The overall critical response to the film has been strong, with the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator score suggesting that 80% of critics provided the film with a positive review.

Thus far, audiences have been less immediately convinced since the film landed in cinemas earlier in the week. The score from verified audience members over at Rotten Tomatoes is currently sat at 57% approval, with an average rating of 3.3/5 from those who have been to see it.

The Good

“It’s an extraordinary picture, steely and unbending and assembled with an unmistakable air of wild-eyed zealotry. Ad Astra, be warned, is going all the way — and it double-dares us to buckle up for the trip.“

— Xan Brooks, The Guardian (five stars)

“[Pitt’s] performance here is as grippingly inward and tamped down as his work for Tarantino was witty and expansive – it’s true movie stardom, and it fills a star-system-sized canvas.“

— Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph (five stars)

Brad Pitt has been tipped for a potential Oscar for his work in 'Ad Astra'. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
Brad Pitt has been tipped for a potential Oscar for his work in 'Ad Astra'. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Bad

“In space, no one can hear you snore.”

— Kevin Maher, The Times (two stars)

“Expeditions to Mars are all very well, but Ad Astra is only really interested in reaching the planet Closure, with its twin moons of father and son. That’s not enough to hang a movie on, even one as handsome as this.“

— Ryan Gilbey, New Statesman (no star rating)

The Middling

“ plays out in a way that makes it easier to admire than to be swept up by. Perhaps because Ad Astra's genre tropes, however striking, are also familiar — a distracting bit of Gravity here, the inevitable nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey there — this episodic saga feels gussied up by them, as opposed to fully inhabiting the terrain.“

— Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter (no star rating)

Brad Pitt's space traveller visits Mars in 'Ad Astra'. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
Brad Pitt's space traveller visits Mars in 'Ad Astra'. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Ad Astra is enjoyable as a two-fisted action movie and as a hard sci-fi rumination. But, weighed down as it is by emotional baggage, it doesn’t quite get to the stars.”

— Nicholas Barber, BBC (three stars)

Ad Astra is in UK cinemas now.