The heart of darkness and cosmic daddy issues
The new science-fiction film Ad Astra answers the heretofore unasked question, “What if you were to cross The Mosquito Coast with Apocalypse Now and set the story in space?” The story is a mostly satisfying exploration of the heart of darkness and cosmic daddy issues, although there is some serious space-snoozing in its final act.
Ad Astra is Latin for “to the stars” (and I imagine if the film had starred the late Jackie Gleason it could have been called, “Ad Lunam (to the moon),” but I digress. The film goes from Earth to the moon to Mars and then slowly, so slowly on to Neptune – completely avoiding Uranus for reasons only the most juvenile among us will understand.
Set in a future where space travel to our moon and Mars is commonplace, the Earth is being bombarded by cosmic rays that threaten our existence. (Apparently, the rays are not turning us all into super-powered beings, a la the Fantastic Four. #Shame)
When it is discovered that the rays are emanating from a long-lost spacecraft manned by a former astronaut hero, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), his astronaut son, Roy (Brad Pitt), is deployed to try to stop his estranged father and a journey of interstellar introspection ensues.
The first two-thirds of Ad Astra are incredible, mostly original and often even edge-of-your-seat intense. If you’ve seen the trailer then you know there is an awesome lunar car-chase sequence, but it gets even wilder than that – and that’s all I’ll say.
Unfortunately, the latter part of the film goes way too slow and becomes cosmically cumbersome as writer/director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) tries to figure out how to get his characters out of the mess he got them into. For me the finale did not hold up or deliver on the promise of its spectacular set-up and I was left scratching my head — in-between yawns.
Pitt does a great job in the calm and cool astronaut part and he is on screen for almost the entire film. The movie’s other headliners are basically window-dressing, and in particular I’m not sure why Donald Sutherland and Liv Tyler were even in this movie. I’m going to file this film under “Coulda Been a Classic” and it’s still well worth watching for the first 90 minutes. Maybe you’ll embrace the ending more than me; or maybe you just fell asleep and dreamt it was awesome.
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