Film and Plot Synopsis
Ad Astra begins with a series of immense energy surges that sweep through the entire solar system; damaging the unprotected planets. The U.S. Space Command believes that the mysterious Lima Project, along with its long-lost ship captain, Clifford McBride, is behind the surges. To find out, they task Clifford’s son, Major Roy McBride, with traveling to the edge of the solar system on a manned mission to Neptune. There he will see firsthand whether his father is still alive, and put an end the source of a problem that threatens the stability of the Milky Way.
‘Ad Astra’ Movie Summary
Unbeknownst to Roy, he is not going to be providing information, but given it. SpaceCom informs Roy that the power surges are originating near Neptune, the last known location of the Lima Project; an expedition Roy’s legendary father, Dr. H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led 26 years earlier.
The Lima Project was charged with going to the edge of the solar system, away from the solar interference of Earth’s sun, to see if they could detect any extra-terrestrial life in the galaxy. However, SpaceCom lost contact with Dr. McBride and the Lima Project 16 years prior. Not only do they believe that the power surges are coming from the Lima Project, but they also believe that his father is alive and causing them. SpaceCom orders Roy to go to Mars, the edge of explored space, and send some scripted messages to his father in the hopes that it will either cause Dr. McBride to discontinue the surges or to respond.
Roy accepts the mission to find himself is paired with one of his father’s old colleagues, Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) for the trip. Their journey is top secret, and the two may not discuss their mission with anyone, including other SpaceCom personnel. After taking commercial flight to the moon, SpaceCom personnel escorts Roy and Pruitt to a secret base on the far side of it.
While in route to the secret base, moon pirates ambush them, and kill everyone in the convoy except Roy and Pruitt. Once the pair get to the base, Pruitt informs Roy that he will not be proceeding any further on the mission due to the fact that he is dying. He gives Roy some additional top secret information about his mission before Roy boards the spacecraft heading to Mars.
In route to Mars, the spacecraft stops to conduct a rescue mission, against the advice of Roy. During the mission, the captain of the spacecraft dies; putting the inept lieutenant in command. As the spacecraft lands on Mars, another power surge from Neptune hits them which knocks out several systems. This puts them at a bad angle for reentry into the atmosphere, and Roy must take command of the ship when the lieutenant cracks under the pressure. However, Roy promises after they safely land not to inform SpaceCom as to what happened.
Once on Mars, Roy encounters the facility’s director Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga) who leads him to an underground SpaceCom base. Roy begins his task of recording scripted messages to his father, which don’t return any responses when sent. After Roy goes off script and records an emotional, personal appeal to his father, they abruptly remove him from the mission; believing his personal connection to his father has put the mission’s success into jeopardy.
Although they do not inform him of any response, Roy believes that his personal message triggered one from his father. SpaceCom orders Roy to a “comfort room” where he’s to undergo psychological testing. It’s here that Helen pays him a visit to let him know that her parents were both on the Lima Project with his father.
She shows him classified SpaceCom footage that suggests Dr. McBride’s crew mutinied against him and tried to return to Earth. The footage, which is a message from Roy’s father, details how Dr. McBride turned off the life-support to sections of the spacecraft to kill the mutineers as well as several innocent people. Helen reveals that Roy’s father killed her parents in this incident. Additionally, the crew that had brought him to Mars was about to leave in their spacecraft to find the Lima Project outside of Neptune in order to destroy it with a nuclear payload.
Helen helps Roy sneak onto the ship without SpaceCom knowing. Although Roy has no evil intent, the crew tries to kill him which forces Roy to protect himself. As a result, he eliminates the entire crew; leaving him alone on the journey to Neptune. During the long trip, Roy reflects on his relationship with his father, his ex-wife (Liv Tyler), and people in general; recognizing that his cold detachment is character trait that he learned from his father as a child.
After a couple of months, Roy arrives at the Lima Project. After debris from Neptune’s rings and another surge from the Lima Project damages his ship, he can not dock with the station. Roy dons a spacesuit, and enters the station with the nuclear bomb as his ship drifts away. He finds the station abandoned with several dead bodies floating weightlessly in the hallways.
Eventually, he finds his father, who informs him that the surges emanate from the ship’s malfunctioning antimatter power source, which the mutiny damaged. Dr. McBride has tried to fix the problem, but he has been unable to do so.
He reveals that the mutiny occurred because the crew discovered that there was no evidence of life outside of the solar system, and with that, many members of the crew wanted to return home. However, Dr. McBride did not want to give up on the project, and refused to go because he was convinced that life still exited out in the universe.
When Roy tries to convince his father to leave with him and go home, Dr. McBride replies that he never loved him or his mother, and no longer considers Earth his home. Nevertheless, Roy persists, and convinces his father to leave with him before the nuclear payload explodes.
The two men retrieve all of the data of the Lima Project, put on their spacesuits and exit the station with the intent to return to Roy’s distant spacecraft. Still unwilling to return to Earth, Dr. McBride uses his suit’s thrusters to pull himself (and the tethered Roy) away from Roy’s drifting craft.
Dr. McBride pleads with his son to let him go, which Roy does; saving himself and dooming his father. Roy gets back to his ship. Without enough fuel to return to Earth, he relies on the shock wave from the nuclear explosion to propel the ship towards Earth and to safety.
Once back on Earth, the data that was retrieved from the base suggests that humans are the only intelligent life in the galaxy. This information, as well as the journey to and with his father, inspires Roy to reconnect with the people closest to him; including his ex-wife. Roy sees the world with a new found optimism, and wishes to experience life to its fullest.