Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science-Fiction
Run Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan
Based on the book by Andy Weir
Written by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, World War Z, Cloverfield)
Directed by Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings, Prometheus, American Gangster, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Blade Runner, Alien)
For as long as we've known about its existence, mankind has dreamed about what life would be like on Mars. In The Martian (opening today), we finally get to find out.
Matt Damon plays an astronaut botanist, Mark Watney, who, in the near future, is stranded on Mars after he is left for dead by the rest of his exploration team when a horrific storm blows through. The rest of the movie deals with his survival on the red planet, as he relies heavily on his scientific genius to invent new ways of making a living under the harshest of conditions, and on NASA's attempts to save him.
But this is not Cast Away in Space. While Damon is alone on Mars, a good half of the movie takes place away from there. The team of astronauts, led by their captain (Jessica Chastain) and some others (including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara and Michael Pena), find out that Watney is still alive but are under direct orders to return home from their mission...they simply don't have the fuel or supplies to return back to get him. Back on Earth, head of NASA Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) paces back and forth in meetings and in the control room, shouting out directives and trying to deal with the public perception, all the while plotting out just how - and if - Watney can be saved.
This is a dazzling, astonishing movie in a visual sense...it can be taken for granted how far special effects have come, where we can have a movie exist like The Martian, where much of it is computer-generated, and yet it still feels organic. Ridley Scott is the right man for the job, and he milks every scene for all of its emotional and entertainment worth.
But The Martian feels really fun, mainly because of its screenwriter, Drew Goddard. Goddard does here for the science-fiction genre what he recently did for the horror genre with The Cabin In The Woods, which is infuse it with comedy, and a sort of tongue-in-cheek mentality that allows the audience to loosen up while at the same time leaning forward. There is real danger and peril in The Martian, but there has rarely been a sci-fi movie that has had more of an optimistic pulse.
Damon gives what many might consider to be an Oscar-worthy performance, but again credit should be given to Goddard. Somehow - by recording small video diary sessions, practicing Mr. Wizard-like science experiments and nearly blowing himself up on more than a few occasions - Damon (and Goddard) are able to create what feels like a well-rounded character by the end of the film. A character that we are really invested in and whom we really want to see make it back to Earth.
And that's where the movie fails itself. For all of the action, there is little tension. We pretty much know where the story is going and what is going to happen. It has more geeky techno-babble-talk in it than an entire season of Star Trek, and much of what is said is aimed way over the head of most movie-goers. We are just expected to go with it. And if you avoid the frustration of needing any of it to make even a modicum of sense, you actually might really enjoy it. It is "science-fiction" in the truest sense, but may be more appropriately described as "fiction science" as much of what we see and hear seems awfully far-fetched, even for a movie about a guy living on a distant planet.
It has everything needed to be a big box office hit, and The Martian is quite the ride. It aims to be a theme-park ride instead of a real narrative with any substance, but sometimes, as it proves, that's not always a bad thing
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