Instead, it’s a movie set in space (beyond Earth’s orbit, even) that explores the human psyche, human motivations, and human allegiances, all while literally exploring particular sections of space.
Like most of recent space-based cinema, it’s beautifully filmed, with realistic (or hyper-realistic) renderings of planets, ships, and environments, alongside mostly realistic portrayal of the physical and existential aspects of living in space.
Unlike most of other space movies, however, Ad Astra carries an undertone of fully existential dread, hints at betrayal (that become more than hints), and questionable propaganda. As the plot unfolds, the movie evolves from a straightforward mission-oriented film into something deeper: this is as much a movie held in space and its environs as it is held within Brad Pitt’s character’s head.
Ad Astra is never boring, never not beautiful, and never not immaculately acted. It is a full story, start to finish, that doesn’t setup a sequel or leave unanswered questions as part of some attempt at mystique. Similarly, it doesn’t overly attempt to answer unimportant questions or provide too much detail on distracting topics.
All of the praise this Brad Pitt vehicle has received is well-deserved, particularly for how fundamentally human a space opera film — since that is, in truth, what Ad Astra is — can be without very many action sequences, without aliens, and without any central villainous force.