REVIEW: ‘Asteroid City’: What in the world did I just watch?

Wes Anderson’s surrealist summer film

An official poster of Asteroid City.


An official poster of “Asteroid City.”


Wow. I can confidently say that I have never seen anything quite like “Asteroid City,” and I am not sure I will ever see anything like it again.

I will start with the visuals. Like every movie directed by Wes Anderson, the visuals are all created very intentionally, with near-perfect symmetry in every frame.

The sets themselves were also interesting to look at; almost everything about the movie seemed extremely surreal.

“Asteroid City” was filmed like a play, having three major acts with several scenes in each act. The plot itself is hard to explain, but I will give it a shot.

There is the play, “Asteroid City,” and an alternate telling of the play itself about its making and the life and emotions of its playwright. To me personally, this slightly diluted the plot because it was hard at times to juggle what was going on, but it seemed to be heaven for film buffs.

The cast of “Asteroid City” is pretty incredible; Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeff Goldblum, Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Cranston and more make up the star-studded lineup that the movie has to offer.

I have mixed feelings about movies having a cast of that relevance. I think it is really cool to have big blockbuster movies cast lesser-known people, such as Paul Dano in “The Batman.” Doing so helps the audience separate the actor from their previous work; whenever I see Bryan Cranston, I automatically think of Walter White and not the host of the play in “Asteroid City.”

This is a movie that really has to be watched multiple times to fully understand; there were a lot of symbolic moments that I did not understand, and probably a lot more that I totally missed. It would be interesting to rewatch “Asteroid City” when it becomes available on streaming services so I am able to pause and rewind.

My biggest lingering question after leaving the theater has to do with the alien. What was his purpose? What did he want? Why was he even included?

Jeff Goldblum’s character descends from the sky in a very stereotypical “flying saucer” and picks up a little asteroid, the namesake of the town “Asteroid City.” Without speaking, he goes back to his spaceship while staring at the onlookers.

The alien was equal parts hilarious and terrifying. I have seen scarier movie aliens than the one in “Asteroid City,” such as those in “Dark Skies” and the aptly-named “Alien,” but there was something about the alien in this movie that was really unsettling.

Even though the alien was a major part of the plot, it was not the most important part. The main character Augie Steenbeck’s dynamic with Scarlett Johansson’s character Midge Campbell was the main focus of the play itself. Together, they process trauma and grief in a way that is both confusing and touching.

While this is no “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Asteroid City” is definitely high up on the list of my favorite Wes Anderson movies. “Asteroid City” is one that I need to watch again and do some research into to fully understand all of the nuance-laden moments that appear throughout the course of the film.