Ad Astra Takes Us On A Visually Stunning, If Muddled Voyage To The Stars

poster ad astra

Ad Astra is a new sci-fi film starring Brad Pitt as astronaut Roy McBride who is assigned to a top-secret mission to Neptune. A few decades from now, humanity has gained a foothold in our solar system with bases on the Moon and Mars. Years earlier, McBride’s father, Cliff (Tommy Lee Jones), a legendary astronaut, went to Neptune on a mission to find intelligent life beyond our system. However, the mission apparently failed as Earth lost contact with the elder McBride. At the start of Ad Astra (which is Latin for “to the stars”), mysterious power surges from Neptune engulf the Earth and threaten all life in the solar system. Roy McBride is tasked to establish contact with his father, who is believed to be alive and somehow causing the surges.

brad pitt as roy mcbride

This may sound like a fairly simple plot, but Ad Astra is more complex and thought provoking than one might think. Directed by James Gray, who directed the pensive The Lost City of Z, Ad Astra is just as reflective as Gray’s previous film as it chronicles Roy McBride’s long journey to possibly reunite with his father. The film is certainly not an action-packed fest, but more of a slow burn that for the most part engages the mind. There are arresting sequences that grab attention, such as a thrilling moon rover chase sequence involving pirates, and a claustrophobic visit to a distant space lab. In between these scenes, we are left to ponder Roy McBride’s ambivalent feelings towards his long-lost father and his own failings in trying to live under the shadow of his father’s legacy. In some strange way, McBride’s reflections echo Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as the visual look of the film evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On the whole, Ad Astra is a mesmerizing watching experience. The space sequences are simply beautiful with magnificent special effects and photography. James Gray supposedly was insistent on making futuristic space travel as realistic as possible and it shows in this film. There isn’t any ludicrous technobabble and though humanity has expanded into the solar system, voyagers still contend with zero-g conditions and use rockets. The scenes on the Moon best echo 2001 in how commercialization and civilians make a voyage to the Moon feel a bit humdrum. It’s not gritty (that aesthetic is saved for McBride’s visit to Mars), but very average and comfortable as the Moon bases are littered with commercial properties like Applebee’s and D.H.L.

Clearly, the first half of Ad Astra is the most engaging as it presents us with a grounded travelogue of space travel in the future. But issues with the film’s plot and pace come up in the second half. The film requires constant attention, but it becomes a bit too ponderous and the payoff at the end doesn’t quite resonate, Gray and co-writer Ethan Gross try to present an important message and an intense spiritual journey, but the delivery is muddled and the payoff feels anti-climatic. There isn’t anything wrong with their message about ourselves, but unlike the stunning visuals of the film, it doesn’t have much emotional impact. What lessens the film’s flaws, aside from the visuals, are Brad Pitt’s charismatic performance. This kind of film demands a certain type of actor that audiences will want to empathize with and Pitt fills the bill perfectly. Other supporting actors have small but memorable appearances throughout.

Mcbride at space elevator

Ad Astra is the kind of film that is meant to marinade after viewing it. Anyone hoping for an action film or a thriller are better off seeing Rambo: Last Blood or It: Chapter Two. Others who are seeking a cerebral experience, or a vehicle for inner reflection, or just want to see an unforgettable and plausible look at our future will appreciate Ad Astra.

Bridging The MCU Disconnect

A common complaint about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and its related television shows is how disconnected they are. There is lip service from the powers that be that all the films and TV shows are interconnected, but there is scant evidence. At least, when it comes to the films. Fans are desperately grabbing at straws and blurry screen shots to find evidence of the TV side of the MCU in the films but without success. To date, none of the characters that originated in the TV shows have shown up on film, aside from one exception. Howard Stark’s butler Jarvis, portrayed by James D’Arcy in Agent Carter, made a brief appearance in Avengers: Endgame. This lack of TV characters in the films implies that the two medium are not connected, resulting in an MCU disconnect.

jarvis in avengers endgame

However, the television shows made it clear, especially older ones, that they were set in the MCU. It’s hard to dispute that fact where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stars one of the secondary characters featured in the films (Agent Phil Coulson) and had appearances by Nick Fury, Sif and Agent Maria Hill, among others. They were portrayed by the same actors and were, in fact, the same characters. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has made numerous references to the films. Lately, this has not been the case as it appears that the producers have given up hope that their shows are part of the MCU and are ignoring what is going on in the films. A good example is the recent sixth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which takes place after the fifth season and that season referenced Avengers: Infinity War and Thanos. In the recent season nothing about Thanos’ snap was ever mentioned nor were other film characters. In a way, it’s good that the TV shows have thrown off the shackles of film continuity and are branching off on their own. The fact that Cloak and Dagger takes place in New Orleans and is far removed by the events in Avengers: Infinity War gives the impression that the MCU is much larger and complex. Like real life not everything has to be connected and it is fun for sharp-eyed viewers to spot obscure Easter eggs, such as Typhoid Mary mentioning the fictional country Sokovia in Iron Fist’s second season. But it can make it hard for some viewers to care about the events in the TV shows since they can rationalize the shows don’t have anything to do with the proper MCU.

That is changing though. With the new Disney+ streaming service, there will be numerous TV shows that are decidedly part of the larger MCU as they will star important characters like Loki, Hawkeye, Falcon and the Winter Soldier. MCU head Kevin Feige promised that the new shows will intertwine with the upcoming MCU films and held up the example of how the show WandaVision will directly lead to the upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Alright, that is all well and good but what about the existing TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Runaways or Cloak and Dagger? That is still up in the air and most likely nothing will change. But there are rumors going on that the cancelled Netflix Marvel shows, Daredevil and The Defenders are headed to either Hulu or FX some time next year or afterwards. The rumors also has it that actors like Charlie Cox will reprise their roles, which means the revivals of the shows will not be reboots. If this is the case, then this will validate that shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones are indeed part of the larger MCU. This, not the Disney+ shows, will certainly go a long way to bridging the current MCU disconnect between the film and TV medium and create a richer and more complex universe.

Spider-Man: Life After The MCU

The dust still has not settled over the shocking news last week that Spider-Man is leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). So much for making Spider-Man: Far From Home earn over $1 billion to keep Spidey in the MCU! As we all digest this huge turd sandwich and cling on to every nugget of hope that Sony Pictures and Disney/Marvel Studios can still work out a deal, it’s time to face reality and ponder on what happens next for our favorite Wall-crawler in live-action films.

As mentioned in the previous post, actor Tom Holland still is contracted to do one more Spider-Man film and right now plans for that film are going forward from Sony. The film studio has the right to do a Spider-Man film without Disney’s blessing but obviously, cannot have it connect to the successful MCU. Sony may feel they can get along fine without the MCU and it may very well be the case, but it’s a dangerous gamble now. The animosity towards Sony by many fans is well documented with campaigns starting to boycott any Sony Spider-Man or related film. The question is will this anger keep up next year when Morbius and Venom 2 premiere? If both films falter or just earn less than expected in the box office then it can be attributed to fan backlash and can force Sony back to the negotiating table. This may not happen but then again look at Solo: A Star Wars Story and the backlash it received for The Last Jedi.

One no-brainer way to entice Spider-Fans to make Venom 2 a success is to shoehorn in Spider-Man now that Sony has him. One thing the studio has in its favor is that many fans are dying to see Spider-Man meeting Venom and fighting Carnage. Yes, the two characters fought each other in Spider-Man 3, but that version of Venom was poorly received. The Tom Hardy version was a hit with with fans though the film Venom was not as well thought of. If Spider-Man and Tom Holland are forced to appear in Venom 2 do the filmmakers have the skills to make it an organic appearance rather than an obvious cash grab? We’ll see.

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The Tangled Web Of The Sony & Disney Spider-Man Debacle

Spidey out of MCU

AAARRGGH! We fans thought things were bad with the imploding DCEU and Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck’s departures, but now this! Superhero fans are still reeling from yesterday’s news that Spider-Man will no longer be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). To say this was a surprise is putting it way mildly. It’s a bigger shock to our collective consciousness than Trump winning the presidency in 2016. We all thought things were going great between Sony, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, and Disney/Marvel. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a smash hit, earning $1.1 billion dollars, making it Sony Pictures biggest money maker of all time. Disney’s Marvel Studios, which produced Spider-Man: Far From Home, is continuing to earn accolades as they sit on top of the box office world. The sharing of Spider-Man with Marvel Studios was for him to appear in six MCU films and so we all waited for news of when that film would happen and when the two film studios would announce a new deal extending Spider-Man’s presence in the MCU.

But it was not to be. Deadline reported that negotiations broke down between Disney and Sony after Disney demanded unreasonable terms. When the news first broke, everyone was out with the pitchforks for Sony because let’s be honest, their track record for their own Spider-Man films has not been great. Sure, they released the classic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, which won the Academy Award for best animated film and Venom was a far bigger success than it had a right to be. But their last three live-action Spider-Man films have not enthralled the world and the studio was seeing diminishing returns for their efforts, which prompted them to make a deal with Marvel Studios.

dancing emo peter parker

The arrangement to share Spider-Man between the two studios worked beautifully for everyone. Marvel and MCU fans got to see comic book company’s most popular hero be a part in the MCU. Marvel Studios used their topnotch talent to create a Spider-Man that felt more faithful to his comic book source while being updated. This led to a revitalized interest in the hero as audiences responded positively to the MCU reboot of the Web-slinger. His presence in the last two Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War were delightful highlights and he gelled nicely with the larger MCU. Meanwhile, Sony was able to reap the financial rewards of the two Spider-Man MCU solo films, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home. One would think that the two studios would want to continue this relationship.

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Is Star Wars Losing Its Luster?

 

The title of this post sounds click baity, but it brings up a nagging thought among many fans over the beloved sci-fi franchise. There are many indications that Star Wars is losing its luster with the general public. No need to worry, Star Wars is not going anywhere, but the property just doesn’t seem to be capturing our excitement these days. Instead that is going to Disney’s other blockbuster IP, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star Wars is still a behemoth that brings in tons of dollars to Disney, but the evidence is becoming more clear. Let’s look at some facts:

  • The property has been swept up in the toxic culture wars that is strangling our society. It started with the release of the controversial Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has enraged many conservatives fans who accused it of being too politically correct.
  • The mixed to negative reaction to The Last Jedi, not just from haters but many die-hard Star Wars fans helped lead to the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story. That in turn led to the cancellation of planned Star Wars films.
  • Disney head Bob Iger admitted that too many Star Wars films were being released too quickly and cited this as a reason for Lucasfilm to cut back on Star Wars films.
  • Even though there is another Star Wars film coming out later this year, the enthusiasm for it is not as high as it was for previous Star Wars films.
  • Merchandising sales are down, with many retailers severely discounting Star Wars toys, especially those related to the Disney-era films.
  • The recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland has not brought in the massive crowds that Disney anticipated.

So, what is happening and why? The answers are not quite simple and it really depends on context. Yes, Star Wars is a victim of the stupid culture wars going on but that has affected other properties and franchises as well. Yes, there are too many sites and videos from haters infesting the web, but they also target Star Trek and even Marvel. Then the fact that these places champion underdog properties indicates that many of them just want to kick at the top dog of the moment. What didn’t help Star Wars is how Rey was written to be a Mary Sue and how the deconstruction of Star Wars in The Last Jedi alienated many die-hard fans who hated what writer/director Rian Johnson did with the characters.

There are many reasons why Solo didn’t perform well. A big part of it was due to the backlash of The Last Jedi, which is unfortunate because Solo was actually a fun film that evoked the traditional adventurous Star Wars films.

The scaling back of Star Wars films is a natural reaction to the mixed reception of recent films. However, more films are still being planned and the Disney streaming service, Disney+, will premiere this year The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars film and it is highly anticipated. Plus, the same service will include a new season of the beloved animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has many fans excited. So, for now, Star Wars’ future lies with television to keep us satiated until the next standalone or saga film.

All this hand wringing over the property could wind up being silly if the next film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, recaptures the magic and leads to new films coming out sooner. Given how Star Wars: The Last Jedi turned out, it is nearly certain that The Rise of Skywalker will play it safe and give fans what they want. In the long run, it could wind up hurting the franchise in the same manner that some were ultimately turned off by Star Wars: The Force Awakens because it was too derivatives of A New Hope. But a short-term win is called for.

Let’s face it, Disney went overboard with the marketing and merchandising of the property At first, it worked wonders for the company when they acquired the IP in 2012. The build up to The Force Awakens was immense and was a genuine phenomenon. Unfortunately, this led to Disney slapping the Star Wars label on practically everything. If we thought creator George Lucas was bad with the merchandising when he owned the property, Disney took the marketing to the nth degree. it is only natural that there would be a backlash and this led to lowered sales.

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