Ridley Scott’s The Martian is more than another endeavor to save Matt Damon (seriously, Saving Private Ryan and Interstellar? How many times must America go out to save Matt Damon?). It is way more than that. Scott’s sci-fi adventure is the kind of film that you leave the theater and long to tell your friends to spend their money and see. Like Apollo 13 and Gravity before it, this film turns to actual science and problem solving into an edge-of-your-seat experience for the audience.
First, let’s address the biggest problem and the premise of the film: The crew of NASA’ Ares III mission is collecting samples on Earth’s red neighboring planet when a violent sandstorm whips through, ending the mission prematurely. In the zero visibility disorder, Damon’s Watney is presumed dead after an incident. His team, led by Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) evacuates and heads back to Earth. But Watney isn’t dead. He is roughed up in the wake of the storm and is 140 million miles away from home. Once Watney is settled, he discovers his team left behind provisions enough to last a few months. This doesn’t sound too bad until we’re told by NASA officials (Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor) that the next manned Mars mission isn’t for another four years, even a rescue party would take that long to mobilize. Watney knows this and figures that he is living with a death sentence unless he can use his wits and his botany powers to turn the lifeless planet into a makeshift Garden of Eden with water and food.
To quote Watney, “I’m going to have to science the s*** out of this.”
There have been a lot of books and movies about Mars and people being stranded on the Red Planet. But The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s best-selling novel and the screenplay by Drew Goddard, is the first film that actually made you feel what it’s like to be stranded there, especially if you saw this movie in 3-D but also his very own charismatic Robinson Crusoe, Damon. Damon’s performance was captivating and entertaining, single-handedly turning an epic survival tale into something intimate and human. It really does make you believe in the perseverance of the human spirit. From documenting Watney’s confessional video diary monologues about hexadecimals and thermodynamics to growing potatoes and bashing terrible disco music, Damon seems to enjoy peddling pathos and punchlines for the audience to enjoy.
The Martian isn’t completely perfect. Outside of the Ares III crew, NASA’s officials, and the band of engineering elves, there are too many secondary characters. Kristen Wiig, as a NASA functionary, just stands around, looking concerned along with taking orders from Daniels, and Donald Glover’s socially awkward physicist is like the long lost member of The Big Bang Theory crew. Scott’s ending is corny, tying everything neatly in a bow for the characters but considering the events of the film, I don’t have a big issue with this. But it would be rude to point out small flaws in a film that is a thrilling testament to the human spirit and ingenuity. It’s a rare blockbuster that has the brains to match its power.
This film will definitely be in my Top 10 at the end of the year.