'The Martian' Review: Ridley Rivets
Ridley Scott is considered one of the most influential directors in modern cinematic history, yet his last few films have been less than legendary (*cough Prometheus). The Martian, based on the Andy Weir novel of the same name, gives Scott a sci-fi playground that leads to a surprisingly grounded and intimate story.
The Martian follows the crew of Ares III as they are conducting research on Mars. A massive storm causes a quick evacuation, leaving Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind as he is presumed dead. The rest of the film is spent showing Watney's ingenuity and tenacity as he manages to communicate with NASA and work with Houston on developing an extraction plan. It's hardly Scott's most elaborate film, but the relative simplicity of the plot allows the details and individual performances to stand out.
The film is a platform for Damon's masterful performance as he has almost all of his scenes alone, focusing on his various methods of keeping himself alive on the desolate, yet hauntingly beautiful landscape that is Mars. Watney video logs most of his daily activities, and his refreshing candor and humor led the movie to be much more funny than I had expected, despite primarily consisting of one character talking to themselves alone the majority of the film. His crew consists of Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, and Aksel Hennie. An impressive cast, for sure, but they are clearly auxiliary characters as this is Damon's show. I would have liked to see a bit more of their interplay, but they are an enjoyable crew in their screen time, and I don't blame Scott for his singular focus on Watney. Jeff Daniels plays the director of NASA who has to constantly juggle the needs of one versus the needs of many, including the entity of NASA itself, in his rescue efforts for Watney. While he provides friction for the ostensible "heroes", he doesn't come off as a bad or corrupt man, rather a pragmatic one. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Benedict Wong, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover round out the rest of the primarily Earthbound cast, and they all turn in solid, if unremarkable performances as well. Glover's genius physicist is a late movie addition that feels tonally different than the rest of the characters, but his unique energy is engaging, at least.
While it is clear that Watney and the NASA scientists have an intellect that far exceeds that typical person, I never found myself lost in the what was happening as far as the planning and general overview of the science, which I appreciated. A lesser film could have inundated the audience with astrophysics jargon, but The Martian manages to feel authentic without evoking a feeling of being overwrought. Parts of the film reminded me of Cast Away, but it would hardly do The Martian justice to say it is Cast Away in space. It's a film about ingenuity, the will to survive, and discovering the true meaning of exploration. It looks beautiful, has a stellar primary performance, and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Ridley Scott has managed to deliver not another great sci-fi film but a great film, period.
Final Say: Watch It