*Fans of the book, be sure to check out Lauren’s look at that as she anticipates the movie.*
Based on the beloved book by Andy Weir, The Martian is a scientifically literate problem solving picture as NASA and their stranded “Martian”, Mark Watney, try and find a way for him to survive until help can arrive. Watney, thought to be dead, is left behind during an emergency evacuation by a Mars exploration team which forces him to “science the shit” his way to survival.
The demeanor and confidence of everyone involved in the rescue attempt in the film, including Watney, is through the roof. While that might throw you off because we are so used to wishy/washy decision-making drama in our films, it is sort of refreshing at the same time. Everyone is so calm and collected at their job because these are the best of the best with everyone carrying out their tasks no matter the crazy deadline. No one shows this competency more than Watney, and Matt Damon gives one of his best performances as the genius survivalist botanist. Damon’s great at selling all of Watney’s cocky moments, while never forgetting to show us the inner fear one must feel when stranded 55 million miles away from home. The whole video log device that the Mars based storytelling is centered around would have crumbled with the wrong actor, but Damon keeps you engaged, makes you laugh and makes you worry every step of the way. The guy has never been more charismatic.
The biggest complaint I can throw at The Martian is that it isn’t long enough. The film does drag a bit in the back half before the final set piece is put into motion, I feel like we skipped a set piece once the final plan is set, but I still wanted more out of this film so I could get to know some of the characters better. The cast is huge in this movie, with a lot of great performances in small parts, but I barely got to know who any of these interesting people are. I would have loved to had an hour more to the movie just following the astronauts on their trip back after leaving Watney behind. I know we want to focus on Watney, it is his story, but that long distance space travel drama, where everyone is dealing with the loss and hopeful return of their fellow crew member, that sounds like great drama to me. The film gives us the faintest of glimpses at this, the film begs for a Ridley Scott extended cut.
Even though we didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would like, the actors playing the extended cast are all as good as you would hope. Jessica Chastain is very believable as the commander of the mission, Michael Pena is great as always providing laughs and piloting duties, Donald Glover is delightfully weird in his brief scenes, and Sean Bean is perfect as the grizzled, old school Flight Director. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Wiig round out the NASA team quite nicely, while Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie all feel underserved as the other astronauts in the film. No one is bad in this film, and everyone gets a moment, but I really wish things would have been a bit more streamlined so we got more from each in the film’s current runtime.
Ridley Scott does a fantastic job of making you feel like you are on Mars and he shoots the film as beautifully as we have come to expect from the legendary director. Prometheus is still a far more visually interesting and beautiful film, but the visual language of The Martian is wonderfully crafted. You never feel lost in the many unknowns of this film, and a lot of this has to do with Scott’s use of GoPro like footage to give us lots of interesting angles on Watney’s actions. Drew Goddard also deserves a shout out for crafting this script which manages to make a lot of moving pieces always stay together.
The Martian is an entertaining time at the movies and a showcase for Matt Damon that you shouldn’t miss. See it on the biggest screen you can and enjoy Ridley Scott’s vision of Mars that will make you feel just about all of the feelings. I can’t imagine fans of the book won’t be happy with the film. I came in cold and was easily won over by the charms of the story, the science, and adventure The Martian has in store.