The Martian, 2015.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong, and Sean Bean.
During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
The Martian is a 142 minute movie that opens up with the above mentioned failed NASA mission that ends up deserting team botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on Mars thanks to a hailstorm. It’s a decision by director Ridley Scott (whose movies are all over the map in terms of quality lately) that pays off to promote what the movie is really about; the humanistic desire to survive against impossible odds.
Hollywood seems to be cranking out razzle-dazzle outer space extravaganzas at a yearly rate (probably because filmmakers have become extremely proficient at transporting viewers there with mind-blowing CGI). Most notably are spectacles like Gravity (a straight up vehicle to showcase immensely advanced 3-D and gorgeous digital cinematography) and Interstellar (Christopher Nolan’s trippy three-hour epic focused on balancing story and computer imagery), so it’s actually refreshing that The Martian takes a dialed back approach from wowing audiences visually in order to tell a more human, accessible, and relatable tale about survival.
Telling such a lengthy story about a lone man stranded on Mars also requires a lead actor with both charisma and the ability to express emotions and thoughts without the need to physically interact with characters. Enter Matt Damon, who excels in this role whether he is removing a sharp object from his torso while grimacing in pain, going about daily routines and mundane activities in his shelter, and sometimes talking to himself by creating video logs of his experience. So many actors come across forced or unintentionally hilarious when performing alone, so Damonnailing this aspect of his performance was absolutely crucial to making The Martian the success that it is.
There is also a welcome amount of comedy written into the script by Drew Goddard, not only to lighten the mood, but more-so to make a point that sometimes comedy and wisecracking during a crummy situation can help raise spirits; especially when potentially facing inevitable death. Admittedly, sometimes this goes a little too far (I’m not sure a real person would be making jokes about how he is going to fly like Iron Man during a highly dangerous and insane rescue mission) but many of the quips land, especially a reoccurring joke blasting the disco music Jessica Chastain’s character brought on-board and obviously had to abandon.
The Martian also has a tightly written script that does just enough with its supporting characters to make you care just enough about them, but not have them steal the spotlight from Matt Damon.. By the end of the movie you will feel a great degree of tension and peril not just hoping that this one last hurrah at getting Mark off Mars works, but hoping the entire crew makes it home safe. Back on earth, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and more recognizable faces all play higher-ups of different rankings within the space program, arguing about what should be done to ensure Mark’s survival, and even though they disagree leaving you liking certain characters more than others,, you do get the sensation that everyone has good intentions. This is a movie that doesn’t need a stereotypical suit-wearing antagonist; the real villain is the living conditions of Mars.
One gripe is the excessive indulgence in scientific accuracy and technical jargon which will undoubtedly please some people, but it’s hard not to deny that it sometimes comes across as overbearing to a regular audience. There’s a point in the movie were Michael Pena’s character says “Can you repeat that in English now” which is actually how I felt listening to a majority of the dialogue. It only really works when you have Matt Damon to sarcastically shoot someone down like a douche over instant messaging. Not to mention that because of this unnecessary need to explain as much as possible, there does come a point before the rescue where the movie feels there like it’s dragging for a good 15 minutes.
For the most part however, The Martian is fantastic and a great return to form for Ridley Scott. He stages the film around the theme of survival and man’s willingness to defy death, which ultimately winds up uplifting. It’s also worth mentioning that the vast emptiness and bumpy landscape of Mars is beautifully envisioned, and while it may not delve into special effects too much, the opening storm scene with debris and hail swirling around like a tornado, and the final rescue in space are both spectacular, rounding out an inspirational tale about keeping strong and never giving up in order to survive.
OK Ridley Scott, I laughed when you announced that there were three more Prometheus movies on the way as part of another Alien trilogy, but you may have reclaimed your mojo here. The Martian is an awesome space thriller that successfully manages to stand on its own from recent genre offerings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook