Review: The Martian
PLOT: After being left behind on a manned mission to Mars, presumed dead astronaut Mark Watney must find a way to survive until a rescue that could only happen several hundreds of days away.
REVIEW: THE MARTIAN is great. Everything you’ve been hearing is absolutely correct. It is an intensely compelling, feel good, character-driven piece that is as captivating on Earth as it is on Mars. At the heart of it is a bravura performance from Matt Damon, who literally carries the entire first act all by his lonesome. He is just terrific. For director Ridley Scott, this return to space is a welcome one. With the only real alien life on another planet being Damon’s stranded astronaut Mark Watney, THE MARTIAN is still a tension-filled adventure that works on nearly every level. There is so much to be respected here, so let’s start with the very simple idea behind it.
On a manned mission to Mars, a team of astronauts must make an emergency exit when a massive dust storm hits. In the process, Mark Watney (Damon) is hit by part of the ship and disappears into the debris. They crew lose all contact with him, and according to his readings on board, he is officially dead. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to make a very difficult decision, one that could cost all of their lives if they continue to search for their fallen comrade. They take off on a chart back to Earth and leave Watney for dead. But of course, he isn’t. By the time Watney awakens, in massive pain due to his injuries, the rest of the crew is long gone. Using his smarts, the astronaut must find a way to contact NASA and somehow survive until they can send help. And since this isn’t your typical sci-fi adventure, help is not easily accessible.
In the opening shots, we see the landscape of Mars and it looks about as far removed from typical science fiction imagery as you can get. As far as visuals go, THE MARTIAN is mesmerizing. Quite often the 3D utilized in other features add nothing aside from a couple of visual gags, but the technology here brings the vastness of space to life. It is especially potent when the storm hits and the debris feels as though it is encompassing you. Scott has always been able to create splendid imagery and he once again succeeds here. Even the simple shots of Watney using his skills to create a food source on Mars is incredible to watch. The director takes full advantage of his steady hand by using as many kinds of cameras as he can, which gives his latest visit to space a legitimacy, as well as beauty.
Much like GRAVITY, there is a very grounded quality to the film. However, the two tales of one person overcoming impossible odds have very little in common aside from that. Whereas GRAVITY told a simple story of an astronaut trying to survive alone in space, THE MARTIAN expands upon that and adds more elaborate complications. There are three stories that all connect this time around. We see Watney in his solitude where he must use science and his skills as a botanist to survive impossible odds. There is the crew that has left him behind, a group of dedicated men and women who have a couple of life-changing decisions they must make throughout. And then you have the fine folks on Earth, trying to figure out a way to bring Mark home without violating protocol. What is really thrilling here is watching these brilliant minds gather together to save one man’s life.
As far as performances go, you really can’t do much better than this when it comes to a top-notch cast. Damon gives a career-best as Watney. Jessica Chastain, along with Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña and Aksel Hennie all have moments to shine. The camaraderie they share is especially powerful and in no way feels forced or insincere. The same can be said for the Earth-bound cast, which consists of Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose and a couple of stand-out performances from Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park and Donald Glover as Rich Purnell. Watching these incredibly intelligent characters work to figure out a life or death problem is far more exhilarating than it sounds. In fact, it’s quite thrilling.
Based on the terrific book by Andy Weir, and adapted to the screen by Drew Goddard, there is as much humor in the story as there is smarts. Again, Damon is especially strong given that he spends most of his time on-screen talking to himself or explaining his process to a monitor. Yet, the way the information is given is absolutely entertaining. This is a terrific mix of Scott’s visual finesse and a great script. If I had any real complaint, it would be that you could have cut a couple of scenes down; there are a few moments that feel slightly repetitious. But that is a very minor gripe which can be easily overlooked.
THE MARTIAN is a wonderful adventure that is as much of an adult story about survival as it is a way to give the young ones an introduction to the vast universe high above. The cast is absolutely terrific, as is the script, and the score by Harry Greyson-Williams is haunting as well as inspiring when necessary. Ridley Scott has taken an incredible story and given it life with brilliant effects and a very human drama at its core. As a survival story, there is real inspiration here, as well as a few well-placed disco tunes, which include Donna Summer and the appropriately placed Gloria Gaynor 70s hit “I Will Survive.” THE MARTIAN is a smart and moving story that will have kids - and probably everybody else - wanting to go to the farthest ends of the universe.
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