For a movie that’s basically about being stranded, all alone, in a desolate planet where everything can kill you, The Martian, ironically leaves its audience very alive and inspired largely due to its beautiful and exciting setting, greatly charismatic lead performance, and its overall hopeful story about humanity.
Written by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and directed by, the long in need of a comeback, Ridley Scott, The Martian tells the story of botanist-slash-astronaut Mark Watney who, being mistaken for dead after getting injured in sudden sandstorm, gets left behind on Mars and must now “science the shit” out of his problems in the hopes of survival.
Coming into The Martian, there is litte doubt to whether Matt Damon’s Watney will survive or not, you already pretty much have an idea how this story will turn out from the get-go. Instead, the movie sticks to the age-old adage of things not being about the destination but of the journey — and this one’s as exciting as they come.
What makes The Martian special is that, in an age where movies mostly show protagonists getting through problems via fists and finely crafted choreography, it’s found a way to make the process of scientific method as interesting or even more so than that of other blockbusters’ action set pieces. The film chooses to focus on a lead that solves problems through math, science, and good ol’ McGyver-esque resourcefulness, and all these keep you on the edge of your seat. The movie is a tale not just of survival but also of that spark of discovery and human ingenuity.
A huge factor on why The Martian is so captivating is because of Matt Damon’s solid performance (possibly his best in years). Not an easy task, Damon spends most of his scenes solo, acting all by his lonesome and it is in these moments that Damon shines. He is able to portray Watney as charismatic and wisecracking with a layer of “optimism amidst hopelessness” under all the jokes. His whole demeanor is so infectious you can’t help but nerdgasm along with him through each scientific success he walks you through via his charming video-logs.
It would be unfair though to say that The Martian is a one-man show, it’s far from that. Assembling quite an ensemble, Damon is surrounded by fascinating supporting characters, both those from NASA (Jeff Bridges, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig, etc.) and his fellow crew at the Ares III (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, etc.). It’s worth noting that Michael Pena is able to bring to this movie charm — the same which made him a breakout character in Ant-Man — as he plays out a frequent bromantic banter between him and Damon.
Given the size of the cast though, one couldn’t help feel that sometimes things lose focus as the movie balances screen time between its huge cast. This leads to some glaring gaps between Damon’s appearances as well as the feeling at times that there may just be too many characters. It’s quite understandable though because, with The Martian aiming for realism, a lot of players and brain power would indeed be required in the real world to pull off a rescue mission of this scale and I think that’s one of the goals of this film — to show humanity uniting under one banner.
In a way, you could say The Martian is a fine blend of new and old. It fuses the old sense of wonder, of what we can achieve through science — the likes of what retrofuturism (The Iron Giant, The Rocketeer) and pulp heroes (Flash Gordon) upheld in the past — with the new breakthroughs and scientific accuracy of the present. It’s not a movie where you feel that all is lost, instead its the kind that pats your shoulder and tells you to move forward, that we can do this.
“The Martian” is now showing in the theaters nationwide.