The Martian Movie Review

From the day we are born, being abandoned is one of life’s biggest fears.  I’ve got to think being abandoned on a foreign planet without food, air or water would be absolutely terrifying.  Combining elements from CAST AWAY and APOLLO 13 (two Tom Hanks films), Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN taps into that fear with a fascinating look at the ingenuity and technical skills for survival using a charming Matt Damon to lead the way.

When a major storm strikes a manned mission on Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead and left behind by the crew. Buried in sand, Watney wakes up severely injured and low on oxygen.  Stranded alone on Mars, Watney must adapt using his intelligence and inventiveness with minimal resources to establish sustainable life on a planet known for none.  Meanwhile, the team of scientists behind NASA must do everything they can to figure out how to help keep their man alive long enough for a plausible rescue mission.

Matt Damon in The Martian

THE MARTIAN is incredibly intriguing.  At every turn, there is another problem that has to be solved in a manner that makes me realize that I am far less intelligent compared to an Astronaut and would easily be dead in minutes through far less horrifying situations. For the most part, the film presents and solves complicated problems in a manner that is easy for the audience to understand even if they have no idea how it works.  Sometimes the situation is too impossible that the passable answer is as Watney says at one point (paraphrased for language), “I’m going to have to science the heck out of it.”  While this answer is obviously a simplified cheat, as an audience, we’ll take your word for it because we are enjoying the ride.

Matt Damon in The Martian

We wouldn’t enjoy the ride near as much if Matt Damon wasn’t at the helm.  Watney contains a spirit to stay alive that is inspiring and in another actor’s hands would not work near as well.  Damon’s Watney keeps things light and playful as he cracks jokes through his video diary, which is a helpful device to communicate to the audience what he is thinking without needlessly talking to himself.  Damon represents an everyman whose character also happens to be a genius.  His goofiness, quips and positive demeanor might be a little over the top for such a dire situation as is the abundant humor throughout THE MARTIAN, but that is also what makes the film ultimately so likable.

Matt Damon in The Martian

The star-studded cast including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, and even Kristen Wiig help keeps things interesting, albeit a bit paint by numbers, when the camera isn’t on Matt Damon. The light-heartedness and the fact that we know the outcome that will eventually need to happen in the film’s conclusion, limits the amount of sustainable tension. But the journey is ultimately captivating.  While I personally enjoyed 2012’s flawed PROMETHEUS, THE MARTIAN is arguably Ridley Scott’s best film in fifteen years, when he delivered 2001’s riveting BLACK HAWK DOWN.

THE MARTIAN doesn’t contain the relentless energy and deeper symbolism as Alfonso Cuaron’s incredibly visceral GRAVITY. Nor does it contain the ambition and emotional resonance as Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR.  However, THE MARTIAN is less polarizing, which makes it more likable in a broader sense.  While it may not deserve to be in that elite group of space films, it is still great in its own right by being entertaining, inspiring and extremely easy to recommend to all audiences.

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