While this isn’t in the league of masterful works such as Blade Runner or Alien, The Martian is a worthy science fiction film that puts a unique spin on its premise through its main character.
It stars Matt Damon as botanist and astronaut (Mark Watney) that’s stranded on Mars after his crew, believing him to be dead, flees the planet from a violent storm. With his wits, Watney has to figure out how to make contact with NASA so he can return home.
This could’ve easily been a psychological thriller, but Ridley Scott decided to change-up the gritty formula he’s been using for years by making a hopeful film focusing on a comically optimistic character.
That’s one of the film’s many strengths: Matt Damon’s acting and how he sells Mark Watney as a character. This is a film where things frequently go wrong, but Watney doesn’t crack. Even when he knows the situation is grim, he keeps a bright sense of humor while he performs tasks that could decide whether he survives or dies by the end of the month.
It’s this surprising comedy and energy that makes the film so engrossing to watch. You’re glued to your seat because you’re witnessing a properly toned film that can juggle the intrigue of the tech, the comedy, and the intensity of Watney’s situation. It’s a two and a half hour film, but it hardly ever drags or slows down. At worst, it speeds up a bit too much at the end.
Of course, the film isn’t just about Damon’s optimistic botanist. It also handles NASA’s end of the story, where they slowly discover that Watney survived the Martian storm and the operation they’re rushing to create that could save his life. The supporting cast (especially Jeff Daniels as the director of NASA and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a head of Martian operations) shines brightly with a mixture of comedy and drama.
If there’s any weakness to the movie, though, it would be the Earth scenes. They aren’t bad by any stretch and they help move along the plot while still giving characterization, but the Mars scenes are far more captivating to watch.
Mars looks real here. They used a Jordanian set as the base for the Mars shots, and it works beautifully. The realism of the set and the cinematography allow the film’s environment to provide the tension, which is a perfect contrast to Watney’s hopeful personality.
Ultimately, I feel like this movie is a true cinematic experience. Those types of movies are what made Ridley Scott famous in the first place, and while it isn’t as good as his best, it’s a true return to form and provides a lot of hope for his career going forward. I highly recommend this film.
9/10. Matt Damon and Ridley Scott’s best work in years.