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Francois Duhamel, Twentieth Century Fox

Review: 'Ad Astra' is beautiful, cerebral sci-fi at its best

By John Clyde, Contributor | Posted - Sep. 20, 2019 at 2:45 p.m.

SPACE — Things have been quiet on the movie front as of late. We're at the point after summer blockbusters have closed up shop for the season and right before awards contenders start opening their doors.

In that in-between time we usually get a few B-movie-type action flicks and a few lowbrow comedies, but one movie decided to buck the trend and start off the awards season early.

“Ad Astra” is now in theaters, and the science fiction flick has garnered a lot of interest. But, how is it? This is a great question considering the trailers likely left you feeling confused and intrigued.

I think “Ad Astra” is an incredibly beautiful and well-constructed film. And while some will agree with me, leaving the theater absolutely delighted, it may leave many audiences frustrated. I’ll explain why I enjoyed it so much below, but I'll also let you know why this movie may not be your cup of tea.

Reaching for the stars

It’s gorgeous

“Ad Astra” is absolutely stunning when it comes to visuals. It could have just been images for two hours and I would have paid the ticket price. Director James Gray and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema have captured something truly special through the lens, and we are the lucky ones who get to experience it.

The scenes on earth, the scenes in space, the scenes on other planets and the moon are all expertly created and executed, and they are all eye candy. It’s impossible to soak up everything on the screen, but it’s a lot of fun to try as the visuals encapsulate you and transport you to another world.

It's one of Brad Pitt’s best performances

Brad Pitt is a fine actor and has turned in some truly wonderful performances, including his turn as Cliff Booth earlier this summer in “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.” But his turn as Roy McBride in “Ad Astra” may be the best thing he’s ever done.

As Pitt becomes McBride, you forget about his other roles and focus in on this brilliant, tortured and struggling astronaut he’s portraying. McBride is an interesting character living in the shadow of a legend, learning facts he never wanted to learn and venturing on missions he doesn’t understand the purpose of. Pitt manages to give us all of this through his performance. His looks, reactions, tone, bravado and sorrow are all apparent and feel real — to the point you forget you’re watching a movie star and not a real person going through these emotions.

There is a quiet brilliance to Pitt’s performance that will likely stand out as one of the best, if not the best, of his career.

It’s slow-burn sci-fi at it’s best

Sci-fi films often fall into two categories: cerebral and action-packed. “Ad Astra” is the former, with hints of the latter.

When things get intense, the action is pushed to a 10 and your blood pressure will rise. If you don’t feel your heart pumping out of your chest during the opening sequence, you may want to check your pulse because something is wrong.

But the movie isn’t all about getting your heart racing; rather, it makes your head spin. The movie is cerebral but not complicated. It’s thought-provoking but not preachy. The movie walks a fine line, and it walks it well.

The slow-burn nature of the film kept me engaged as I was eagerly anticipating where we were headed, what the next curtain pull would reveal, and how Roy McBride would react to or overcome this new obstacle.

Slow-burn sci-fi isn’t easy to pull off and still be entertaining, but “Ad Astra” succeeds in a way that few other sci-fi films have.

Crash landing

You may find it boring

While I found the slow-burn nature of “Ad Astra” to be enthralling and engaging, there are many out there who will not.

I feel like you need to know that the action-packed sequences found in the trailer — like a shootout on the moon and a fall from a tower piercing the stratosphere — are exciting points in the film, but come few and far between. Do not go into this movie expecting an action-oriented, sci-fi epic filled with space pirates and fisticuffs, because this is not that movie.

“Ad Astra” is deliberate with its pacing and the antithesis to the big superhero blockbusters that filled the 2019 summer movie lineup. So, if action-packed is the kind of film you’re expecting, you will be disappointed. I think the marketing for “Ad Astra” may have been a little misleading, and I want you to know what you’re getting into.


While “Ad Astra” is nothing like a Marvel movie or a “Mission: Impossible” thrill ride, it is a beautiful sci-fi drama filled with emotion and brains. The movie is truly stunning in its cinematography and visuals, but it will not be up everyone’s alley due to its slow-burn nature.

Check tomorrow for a parents' content guide for the film.

“Ad Astra” is rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

John Clyde

About the Author: John Clyde

John has grown up around movies and annoys friends and family with his movie facts and knowledge. He also has a passion for sports and pretty much anything awesome, and it just so happens, that these are the three things he writes about. Contact him on Twitter at @johnnypclyde.

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