Brad Pitt’s star shines in an existential, extraterrestrial ...

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Brad Pitt’s star shines in an existential, extraterrestrial extravaganza

There is an abundance of tension and spectacle in this astonishing new science-fiction epic

Robbie Collin

Without wanting to downplay the one-small-step-for-man moment, the myth of the American astronaut was made by the movies. It’s most thoroughly codified in Philip Kaufman’s rousing 1983 Project Mercury epic The Right Stuff – an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s history of the US spaceflight programme, in which a band of square-jawed space cowboys ride out with grit and pluck towards the heavenly frontier.

Ad Astra, James Gray’s astonishing new science fiction epic, takes its title from a Latin epigraph Kaufman’s heroes would have doubtless appreciated. Per aspera ad astra, it runs: through hardships to the stars.

Yet through an elegantly told, often staggeringly visualised, classical adventure narrative, Gray’s film deconstructs the dogged “great man” alpha-heroism glorified in Kaufman’s, as well as countless space blockbusters like it. Could that particular strain of masculinity be a cosmic mistake? Has the right stuff been the wrong stuff all along?..

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