on Ad Astra
The full review will be out later this weekend on CultofWhatever. Until then, here’s a snippet along with the final score.
The tradition of one great space movie a year
Maybe you’ve noticed this too: It seems like we’ve been getting one big space-set film a year from Hollywood, going back a while. Gravity blew everyone away in 2013. Interstellar followed in 2014. The Martian was a big hit in 2015. Can we call 2016’s Arrival a space movie? No, but it certainly feels like it belongs in the same category. That might be the lone exception. Life was a modest hit in 2017. Last year, of course, saw the release of the excellent and shamefully underrated First Man.
There’s no shortage of big, loud, action-heavy sci-fi movies. I certainly love them when they’re well made. Shoot, I occasionally even love them when they’re trash. Ad Astra serves as this year’s entry in the “one big Hollywood space movie a year” category, and it serves it well. It has the tension of Gravity, the feeling of emptiness in space that Interstellar did so well, the focus on one main character out in space that The Martian hit with, and even—in one terrifying scene—the horror the Life offered. It checked a lot of boxes and just about anyone who loves a good movie will find something to enjoy.
Incidentally, and this ventures close to spoiler territory, though it doesn’t ruin the movie by any means, but several of the aforementioned movies have one thing in common: They all speculate on alien life, and they all embrace the idea that alien life is out there. It might be scary (Life) or hard to understand (Arrival) but it’s out there.
Ad Astra too cares about answering the question of “are we alone out here” but its answer is far more cynical. To quote Arthur C. Clarke, “either we are alone in the universe or we are not, both possibilities are equally terrifying.” Ad Astra says “we are alone” and then shows us a hint of what that reality means to someone who devoted their life to searching for…anyone else. You won’t find many “science fiction” movies willing to go there. Bravo to this one for doing it.
10/10 - People going in expecting a big dumb action movie in space are going to be disappointed. People going in expecting a contemplative, meditative, beautiful, character-driven film set in space will be very happy indeed.