Summary: Here is a review of Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and Liv Tyler. It reveals much about Hollywood. It is not entertaining, despite a fine cast and great fx.
Ad Astra opens with its deepest moment. Eve McBride (Liv Tyler) walks out on her husband Troy (Brad Pitt). He is not just Brad Pitt but also a big-time astronaut and son of the most famous astronaut. None of that matters. Liv walks out on Troy, just as in the real world Angelina Jolie walked out on Brad Pitt. Ad Astra is picture book story about the nature of masculinity in our America.
Brad plays an astronaut famous for his stoicism. He is focused on the mission, resolute, and imperturbable. Yet he seems fragile, often as if he is about to cry. Brad’s droning, intrusive, and boring voice-over tells us that he is broken and whiny behind that macho facade. Ad Astra is his journey to become a more balanced person. It’s the heroes’ journey for our time, conquering the monster of toxic masculinity to embrace his feminine side.
The writers of Ad Astra copied the structure of Apocalypse Now (1979): the focus on the hero’s internal thoughts (revealed by his monolog), the briefing by generals at the beginning, the journey through the wilderness – marked by senseless battles – ending by confronting a guru father-figure at the end. Since it is modern Hollywood, along the way he will meet many men. Some are incompetent, some deceitful, and one is quite mad. In contrast with them, he will meet two beautiful, sensible, well-balanced women (one a leader) – one white and one Black.
In Apocalypse Now’s Vietnam, soldiers were not heroes. In Ad Astra (set in the “near future”) astronauts are no longer heroes.
This would have been shown as heroic in a 1960 film. Not in As Astra.
About Ad Astra.
Anyone who has watched YouTube has seen short films like Ad Astra. It has all the tropes: the brutal overkill of the voice-over (telling us rather than showing us), the mimicry of a classic film, the heavy-handed repetition of its themes, the ponderous Psychology 101 pseudo-profoundly, the faux-artistic slow pacing and with much staring at the background. This seems like an 80 million dollar film produced by college students gifted with an all-star cast (Pitt, Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland) and a top-notch special effects team.
The message (there is always a message).
Much of Hollywood’s energy these days goes to attacking masculinity. Books with strong male heroes are fixed to make them broken characters, as Peter Jackson does to Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. “Fraught” relationships with dads are de rigueur. In 2010 (1984) and Interstellar (2014), we follow the dads that left their anguished children. In Ad Astra, we follow the son left behind. There are different rules for moms: in Captain Marvel, a daughter excitedly tells mom to go fight – and perhaps die.
The Ad Astra team is quite open about their intent. In an interview in The Telegraph, Brad Pitt and director James Gray discuss “how their space epic aims to tear apart the actor’s image as an American hero.” Here is the money paragraph.
“I thought Brad would be ideal for Roy given his mythology. Brad is this very American, very masculine figure. Brad is willing to tear that myth apart, and be open to the vulnerability that brings. …That willingness to destroy toxic masculinity within the text of the movie itself.”
That’s a spoiler by the director, telling you about the resolution of the film. Another hint: Brad says “I don’t want to be like my father.”
Liv Tyler does not look like this in Ad Astra. No pandering to the male gaze!
Gender Studies looks at Ad Astra.
A staple of critics reviews is dissatisfaction with the role of women in the film. All films must portray full-bore socialist realism with a 40%-40% role for cisgender men and women. Anything else means that the women’s roles are “underwritten” (used so often it must be F4 on the critics’ keyboard).
“And just like that, Tyler (playing Brad’s wife) is there for Roy (Brad), because that’s how women are in movies like this.”
— Review by Steven D. Greydanus in the National Catholic Register.
What kind of wife is “there” when her husband needs her? Apparently not the kind approved of by the National Catholic Register. Steven probably believes that she should have divorced Roy and moved on.
It is pretty on the big screen, but not worth a trip to the theater.
If you see it, I recommend the IMAX version. It is worth the extra money.
For more information
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