*Warning, certain plot points pivotal to the movie explained here contain SPOILERS*
Ridley Scott’s new film ‘The Martian’ is a rousing realism bound sci-fi flick for our time. Its easily the best film Scott has made in the last decade and is thoroughly riveting. This does not mean, however, that it is not without flaws. The film rests the weight of its purpose on Matt Damon’s tried and true shoulders, and because of this, it soars. Damon embodies Mark Watney with a tremendous amount of humanity and heart, and it shows throughout the film’s runtime. And while the cast that lives and breathes on the outer edges of Watney’s story serves their purpose, some better than others, a few performances feel shoehorned in.
In case you didn’t know, Mark Watney’s tale is that of an interstellar castaway. In the midst of an unexpected superstorm on the red planet of Mars, Watney’s team moves to evacuate their base lest their ship topples and strands them there. During this trudge through the storm to the ship Watney is knocked away from the team by a piece of equipment and his captain, Jessica Chastain, makes a hard choice in leaving him behind, as they assume his death. Watney’s team ascend from the red planet and make way for home before he awakens the next day with fresh wounds and a short air supply. From there it is Watney’s perogative to stay alive at whatever the cost, even though he himself knows the almost innumerable odds he faces, ” If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab beaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen. I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.” This begins the movie with a tangible and tense sense of urgency.
The film does many things quite well, but every so often there is a hiccup that hinders the overall experience. The cinematography, for example, is top notch and really utilizes the landscape to the audience’s advantage. The pacing of the film is also great-most of the time. At times the weight of the two hour and twenty minute runtime can be felt as montages trod on, or when there is time for Watney and others to reflect. Basically, every time the tension is gone, so too does the focus of the film, if only for a scene or two. Which is probably why Watney is thrust into many situations that he must out-think to survive. There are some impeccable sequences in which Watney must react quickly, and intelligently, or he will cease to exist. In fact, the problems Watney frequently encounters are the core thrust of the film in my perspective. They define the film because it is the calm and collected strategy that Watney, and eventually NASA, approaches these problems with that should be hailed with praise. Maybe not for writing’s sake in terms of originality, but in the grand scheme of it all, that despite all odds, we continue. We continue to be, and to be human is to explore, to step out of the cave and do something with ourselves. Fear is crippling, and we shouldn’t let that stop us from advancing, and that is something this movie showcases tenfold. It is something I admire greatly about the film.
There’s also one key scene that reminded me that I was watching a movie rather than being involved in the experience of the movie. When the crew is discussing how to save their man left behind Kate Mara’s character rattles off a line or two that when thought about momentarily was complete movie science lingo garbage. Most of the film does not commit this sin, but that one was particularly brutal. Speaking of the crew, the rest of the cast is quite good. An excellent bunch of actors to be honest. The aforementioned Jessica Chastain gets a few moments, moments where she is referenced particularly by Watney about her mostly disco music selection, which is heartwarming at a time when Watney reflects on his lonliness. With the exception of Jeff Daniel’s CEO of NASA most everyone else is there for exposition, ‘My God!’ scientist scenes, or particularly one note performances. Donald Glover in particular felt especially shoved in, as if his character was from a different movie altogether, not that his performace was lacking, rather that he might not have been given the proper logistics as to what the tone of the film would be.
The moments that do lack however are small and fleeting as most of the movie is with Damon on the lonely red planet, and that’s where the film sizzles. Near the third act news of Watney’s isolation and rescue plan are released to the public and the effect of global teamwork and rallying around the cause of bringing our guy back home is enough to cheer for! Its inspiring and it makes you feel warm in all the right places when you see everyone come together, just to save one man on another planet, 140 million miles away.
Final Score: 8/10