Ad Astra

Ad Astra (Latin for “To the Stars” is a 2019 American science fiction adventure film produced, co-written, and directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland, it follows an astronaut who goes into space in search of his lost father, whose experiment threatens the Solar System.

In the near future, the Solar System is struck by mysterious power surges, threatening all human life. After nearly dying from an incident caused by a surge, Major Roy McBride, son of famed astronaut H. Clifford McBride, is informed by U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom) that the surges have been traced to the “Lima Project” – created 29 years earlier to search the limits of the Solar System for intelligent life, under Clifford’s leadership – from which nothing has been heard for 16 years after reaching Neptune. Told that Clifford may still be alive, Roy accepts a mission to travel to Mars to try to establish communication with him, joined by his father’s old associate, Colonel Pruitt. Roy, famed among his fellow astronauts for keeping calm under pressure, shows little emotional reaction to the news that his father may be alive.

After taking a commercial flight to the Moon, Roy and Pruitt are escorted by U.S. military personnel to the SpaceCom base, located in a disputed war zone on the far side of the moon. En route in lunar rovers, they are ambushed by scavenging pirates, who kill their entire escort. Upon arrival at the base, Pruitt, whose heart function worsened after suffering stress, is placed into intensive care, preparing for an urgent heart operation. Before that, he gave Roy a classified message that if Roy should fail to communicate with his father, Clifford would have to be destroyed. Roy transfers to the ship Cepheus, bound for Mars. The ship receives a distress signal from a Norwegian biomedical research space station. Captain Tanner has the Cepheus stop to investigate despite Roy’s protests, and Roy and Tanner make their way to the station. It appears abandoned, and the two split up, but Roy soon discovers an escaped baboon test subject feeding on Tanner, who is severely injured. It attacks Roy when it notices his presence, but he manages to kill it along with another escaped baboon that attacks him shortly thereafter. Despite

Roy’s attempts to save him, Tanner dies from his injuries, and a brief service is held where Tanner’s body is ejected into space. Again, Roy shows little reaction to Tanner’s death, but in a psychological evaluation, he admits that he experiences rage and recalls his father expressing his own rage. Another surge hits as the Cepheus lands on Mars, requiring manual piloting to complete the landing. The interim captain freezes in fear, while Roy using his vast experience as a space pilot remains calm and takes command of the ship, landing it safely. Roy is led to the underground SpaceCom base, where he meets facility director Helen Lantos and is tasked with recording voice messages to send to the Lima Project in hopes that Clifford will respond. Roy goes off-script with an emotional appeal to his father and is abruptly removed from the mission on the grounds of his personal connection, posing a risk to himself and the mission’s success. From the reaction of the observation team to his emotional recording, he assumes correctly that an immediate response from his father had been received and demands to hear it.

He is visited by Lantos, who reveals that she was born on Mars and was the daughter of Lima Project crew-members. She shows Roy classified footage revealing that Clifford’s crew had mutinied and tried to return to Earth, causing him to turn off their life-support systems; her parents were among those killed by Clifford. She tells Roy that the crew that brought him to Mars is leaving on the Cepheus to destroy the Lima Project station with a nuclear payload. The two decide that Roy should confront Clifford himself, and Helen leads Roy to an underground lake beneath the rocket launch site.  Hclimbs aboard as the rocket takes off and is subsequently discovered by the crew, who are instructed to neutralize him. The entire crew is inadvertently killed in the ensuing confrontation. During the long journey to Neptune, a solitary Roy reflects on his relationships with his father and Eve, his estranged wife. The isolation and stress of the mission take a mental toll, but after a couple of months, he arrives at the Lima Project. While approaching the station in a shuttle attached to the Cepheus, the shuttle is damaged in a collision with objects in Neptune’s rings and from another surge, preventing it from docking with the station. Roy enters the station via a space-walk while the shuttle drifts away.

Finding the station abandoned and encountering the dead bodies of its crew, he plants the nuclear payload before encountering Clifford, the station’s sole survivor, who explains that the surges are coming from the ship’s malfunctioning antimatter power source, which had been damaged in the mutiny. Clifford has continued to work on the project, refusing to lose faith in the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Clifford admits to Roy that he never really cared about his own family and no longer considers Earth his home. Roy copies data gathered by Clifford and his team for the Lima Project and persuades Clifford to accompany him back to Earth. He arms the nuclear payload, and they climb out on the station’s surface to return to the Cepheus. Clifford suddenly uses his spacesuit’s thrusters to launch the two of them off into space. Clifford pleads for Roy to untether them from each other; Roy reluctantly does so and watches his father drift into space. He manages to propel himself back to the Cepheus using his own spacesuit. Without enough fuel to return to Earth, he relies on the shock wave from the nuclear explosion in the station to gain the required speed.

The data retrieved from the base suggests that humans are the only intelligent life in the galaxy. This inspires Roy to reconnect with those closest to him, and he returns to Earth with a newfound optimism. After expressing his opinions in a psychological evaluation, he reconnects with his estranged wife, Eve.

While not a very exciting, thrill ride on the edge of your seat, it’s a more thoughtful movie that dwells on the relationship of the man and his father. It’s got that vibe around it of expressing more in shots where there is no sound than with dialogue. It also shows how a single-minded quest can also cause problems and how we need to be more grounded. 7.5 outta 10!

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