Review: The Martian Is Smart, Funny, And One Of The Best Movies Of The Year
Title The Martian
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: Drew Goddard (screenplay) and Andy Weir (book)
Principal Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels. Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie
Summary: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
I’ve been worried about Ridley Scott for a few years now. His movies have ranged from “well intended misfire” (Prometheus) to “complete disaster” (Exodus: Gods and Kings). It has gotten to the point that seeing his name attached to a movie is enough make me worried. However, I’ve been crossing my fingers and toes for The Martian since the first trailer dropped. I knew this man had a good movie in there, somewhere, so maybe he just needed to find the right material. I’m also a huge fan of what can be called “smart sci fi” where the “science” is just as important as the “fiction”. The cast for The Martian also looked very solid so I tried to keep my expectations as level as possible.
The Martian is a true return to form for the great Ridley Scott with a stellar lead performance, great dialogue and a plot that firmly keeps the (mostly) accurate science in science fiction.
There are two ways that a movie like The Martian could go and that stems from the plot itself. It features a lone astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is left behind on Mars after his crew thinks he’s dead. That means that anything Damon does over the next two hours is going to be by himself. There aren’t many actors who could pull that off but Damon does it beautifully. The plot device that is that he keeps up the video journal despite being alone is perfect because it gives the movie an excuse for Watney to narrate everything that is happening around him out loud. It also means that Damon spends nearly the entire movie talking to himself and it’s always entertaining. I was surprised how funny the movie ended up being with such great lines as “well, I blew myself up” and “I’m going to have to science the shit out this” being two of many great one liners.
There are going to be articles floating around the internet talking about how accurate the science in this movie is and, thus far from what I’ve read, it is accurate far more than it isn’t. As I said during my Ex Machina review, I love science fiction that doesn’t demonize the science part. There aren’t any moments where Watney laments that they should have never left Earth to come to Mars because it wasn’t natural or something like that. The movie makes sure to emphasis that, despite Watney’s situation, sending a manned mission to Mars is a good idea. The entire movie might as well be a two hour commercial for how we should be giving NASA so much more money. The movie also manages to throw in a few themes about the nature of teamwork whether it is through the actual ARES crew or the various people that have to come to together to help Mark survive.
I was very fortunate that I’ve actually seen this movie twice now. When a movie is released in 3D the critics screening will almost always be in 3D, but there was an issue during our initial screening and it was in 2D. A week later they offered us the option to see the movie again, a “do over” type situation, and since I enjoyed it I decided to go again. Therefore, not only am I saying The Martian is one of the best movies of the year but it also holds up on repeat viewings. There are a few things that keep it from being perfect. The ARES crew (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie) get very little in the way of development and I wish there was more of them. However, once the crew gets their moments to shine they are fantastic. I can say, because I saw the movie in 2D and 3D, that the 3D didn’t add much for me. If it was IMAX 3D it could have added to that sense of vastness and made it more immersive, like Everest, but regular 3D isn’t groundbreaking. It’s well done and rather subtle, I didn’t get a headache like I often do with 3D, so if you enjoy movies in 3D then you’ll enjoy this. If you’re lukewarm on 3D, or if you hate it, then you aren’t missing much by seeing this one in 2D.
The Martian proves that, with the right material, Ridley Scott can still make an excellent movie. From the great pacing to the rather funny script this is the second smart science fiction movie of this year and it’s great. I expect this one will turn up on a lot of “best of 2015” lists and it absolutely deserves to be there.