Review: The Martian (TIFF 2015) + Video Review
PLOT: An astronaut (Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars after his crew assumes he perished in a deadly storm.
REVIEW: There were some snickers when it was announced that Ridley Scott's THE MARTIAN would be playing TIFF, as with GRAVITY having shown to such acclaim here only two years ago, clearly it was going to face an uphill battle with critics who were bound to compare it to that earlier film. However, even the harshest critics are sure to be charmed by this, as the two aren't especially similar, with THE MARTIAN telling a bigger story and likely aiming more to be considered top-notch family entertainment than an awards candidate. On that level it really succeeds, as this is optimistic, inspiring family entertainment at its best.
Based on Andy Weir's immensely popular novel, THE MARTIAN really comes across as a logical successor to Ron Howard's Apollo 13. It's certainly director Ridley Scott's most purely entertaining film in a while, with him really showing a commendable light-touch throughout. Star Matt Damon will likely inspire tons of kids nationwide to start hitting the books as I'm sure every young person coming out of this is going to want to become an astronaut. NASA couldn't ask for a better recruiting film. Damon's movie-star presence is on full-display here, with the first third of the movie being a kind of one-man show as he uses his smarts to overcome certain death, while maintaining a true sense of excitement rather than dread at his predicament, as he keenly reminds mission control in his recorded messages that's he's doing the thing he loves best.
After the first forty-minutes or so, the movie opens up and becomes more of an ensemble, with the mission control crew working together to find a way to bring their boy home. You really get a sense of what a team effort space exploration is, with all sides being explored including engineering, astrophysics, political chicanery, and even publicity – with Kristen Wiig as NASA's spin doctor. Everyone is top-notch, including Jeff Daniels as the NASA director, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean (as a nice guy for once), Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis and more.
The second half largely revolves around Damon's crew trying to save him, with Jessica Chastain as the crew's warm commander – who's love of disco means Damon's stuck on Mars with only albums like Abba's greatest hits to lift his spirits. The disco tunes are used well though (and well intergrated with Harry Gregson-Williams' propulsive score) - with the novel use of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive getting a big laugh from the usually reserved press audience. Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie, and Sebastian Stan all get wonderful character moments as Damon's crew-mates and one of the most refreshing things to see is how there are no baddies here – only heroes.
As such, The Martian really is terrific family entertainment. There's plenty of action – including excellent use of 3D and tons of humor, but the absolute best thing is how inspiring a tale it winds up being. It's nice to see a big studio flick that aims for optimism and certainly it feels like a crowd-pleasing hit waiting to happen. Even if you're burnt out on space movies – this is a trip to Mars well-worth taking.
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