The boilerplate synopsis says that James Gray‘s Ad Astra (Disney, 9.15) is about an astronaut (Brad Pitt‘s Roy McBride) who embarks on a space voyage in search of his long-lost father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) “whose experiment threatens the solar system.” Right away I’m thinking “huh?” What kind of an experiment could threaten even a single planet, much less the whole solar system?
Be honest: If Tommy Lee Jones’ “experiment” were to eradicate Jupiter in the same way Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star, who would care? It’s just a pretentious ball of gas. **
My second thought is that Ad Astra (a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars”) may not sound dumb enough for your lowest-common-denominator filmgoer. Americans tend to regard askance any film with the slightest hint of erudition.
What would happen if Stanley Kubrick had never made 2001: A Space Odyssey 50 years ago, and if Gray had directed the exact same film with Ryan Gosling as Dave Bowman and it was coming out in the fall? What kind of money would it make? I’ll tell you what it would make. It wouldn’t make squat. The ending would piss people off, and the Cinemascore rating would probably be a B or more likely a B-minus. The Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores would be mixed. The word of mouth that happened among stoners in ’68 would never materialize, and even if it did Gray’s 2001 would be kicked out of theatres and put into streaming so fast your head would spin.
All to say that the crowd that flocked to Spider Man: Far From Home is probably going to be a teeny bit suspicious of Ad Astra. This latest TV trailer suggests it might not be half bad (it seems like something I might like except for the Gravity shots and that moment when Tommy Lee Jones makes a scary face), but “if people don’t want to see something you can’t stop ’em.”
** What 19 year-old film was briefly referred to by certain Entertainment Weekly staffers as “bag of gas”?