Matt Damon plays a botanist who proudly proclaims he’s going to science the sh*t out of being stranded on Mars after being presumed dead in The Martian, one of the Ridley Scott’s best films in decades. The Martian boasts an outstanding ensemble cast, but Damon’s definitely the headliner in this sci-fi action adventure film that makes you wish you’d paid better attention in science and biology classes. Entertaining and sharply written, this is one film that actually deserves to be seen in 3D and IMAX, if the option’s available at your local theater. Otherwise, see it in the conventional 2D format at a theater; don’t wait for this on Blu-ray or On Demand.
The Martian is full of interesting characters, all of whom are intelligent and all of whom have been given their moments to shine by screenwriter Drew Goddard who adapted Andy Weir’s book for the screen. The film focuses on astronauts who’ve made the trip to Mars only to be forced into cutting short their mission on the red planet due to a massive storm. Unfortunately, not all of them make it into the ship when an evacuation becomes necessary, and Mark Watney (Damon) is hit by debris and ultimately presumed dead when his sensor stops transmitting his vitals. No one wants to leave his body behind, but staying put is simply not an option as they could lose not only the specimens and research they were able to do before the storm hit, but also their lives.
After a state funeral is held on Earth with citizens worldwide mourning Watney’s death, an analyst at NASA notices something is moving on the surface of Mars. On further inspection, NASA confirms Watney is still alive and now he’s stranded without enough food or water to last until a rescue mission can be launched.
Fortunately, Watney’s perfectly suited for the task of figuring out how to make plants grow on an alien planet. Of course, now we know there is water on Mars, but the film’s Mars is one in which there’s not a drop of water and the soil doesn’t contain the proper nutrients to make anything grow. Watney’s all over that problem, using all of his skills to become the greatest botanist on the planet. He admits time and again in his video diary that he believes he’ll die before NASA is able to put together a rescue mission. But he’s determined to stay alive, no matter what it takes to do so.
Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard have crafted a believable, heart-wrenching, even life-affirming film that balances the drama in space with some well-placed humorous moments. Damon plays Watney as an eternal optimist with a self-deprecating, wry sense of humor and a distinct dislike of disco. Watney’s smart enough to realize he has to fight to stay sane and not give in to loneliness and despair, and by approaching each problem as an objective to tackle, this botanist becomes a hero kids can look up to and adults will embrace and root for.
Jessica Chastain plays the commander of the Mars mission who made the decision to leave Watney behind following what she believed was a fatal accident. Chastain brings an authoritative presence to the role of Melissa Lewis, and it’s completely believable that the crew would follow her orders without question. The crew also includes Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie, with Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover making up the group at NASA focused on solving the problem of getting Watney home safely. Ridley Scott’s gathered a terrific group of actors together, all of whom deliver stellar performances. Daniels in particular shines as the head of NASA who has to balance budgetary restrictions, politics, and the debate over whether one man’s life is worth the possible sacrifice of hundreds of millions of dollars to a mission that could fail (and if it does, it will fail in full view of an enthralled public). Plus, any astronaut who takes part in the rescue mission has the potential of dying in the attempt if anything goes wrong.
The Martian is a riveting space adventure with striking cinematography and incredible effects. It’s simply stunning to watch, but what makes The Martian so memorable and such a captivating theatrical experience are the characters at the heart of the film, with Damon’s Watney front and center. Watching Watney work out each of the problems he must overcome in order to survive is fascinating, and Damon’s performance is genuinely moving. The Martian‘s set far, far away but it’s grounded in real human emotions. It may not make you long for a chance to travel to Mars, but it’s refreshing to see characters other than ones inspired by comic books revealed as heroes on the big screen in a big budget, epic film.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: October 2, 2015
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