The Martian Review
I cannot overstate how happy I am that this movie exists. As someone who was quite honestly irritated by Interstellar and who had to force himself to not fall asleep in agitation during this year’s Fantastic Four, the existence of a movie about space and its many trepidations and how actual scientific prowess can be applied to conquer extreme odds was highly refreshing to me. Instead of a movie that seems ashamed of science and is so dumb that it physically hurts to watch it or a movie so obsessed with explaining all aspects of science in as dry and drawn out a way as possible that it will aggravate you or put you to sleep, here we have a movie with relatable characters realistically addressing real world problems with all of the knowledge and resources they have. I love that a movie like this can still exist.
The plot is remarkably simple. During a manned mission to Mars, a massive storm hits the mission site and the astronauts are forced to evacuate. During the evacuation, botanist Dr. Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by debris and presumed dead when his bio-sensor flat-lines. After the rest of the team evacuates, it turns out that Mark is still alive and now stranded on Mars. Knowing he will probably die, he does the math: he needs to survive on Mars for at least 4 years, and he needs to create enough food to last that long on a planet where nothing grows. Meanwhile, NASA soon discovers Mark is still alive and starts figuring out how to communicate with him and if it’s possible to save him with the resources available.
That’s it. For roughly two and a half hours, you watch incredibly smart people deal with the incredibly difficult tasks laid out before them. Mark uses his intellect and the resources at his disposal to grow food on a desolate planet while NASA attempts to plan and safely build a means of recovering Mark from Mars. Such a basic premise and procedural plot runs the risk of boring the audience. However, despite the film being a tad too long in places, it hardly ever feels boring. This is largely due to the fact that everyone in this movie is doing their jobs and doing it well. Director Ridley Scott proves that with the right material he can still be one of the greatest sci-fi directors of all time, and this is movie is also proof that he is apparently capable of humor too (I know. I’m as shocked as you). While this film was adapted from a popular novel by Andy Weir, credit for the screenplay should largely go to screenwriter Drew Goddard (writer of Cabin in the Woods and Netflix’s Daredevil) who manages to adapt what is apparently a very technical book and keep it chock full of plenty of humor and good dialogue (The line, “You’re launching me into space in a convertible!” is a personal favorite). The film is also gorgeous to look at with its vast desert landscapes on Mars and the well shot and thrilling space sequences that are genuinely tense and nerve-wracking when they happen. I suppose Interstellar had a lot of gorgeous imagery too, but that film was so cold and humorless and devoid of any likable characters that it was impossible to really enjoy any of it. Also, it appears that the ‘70’s are back in full force because roughly a year after Guardians of the Galaxy we have yet another retro, mostly disco-inspired soundtrack, and it works incredibly well, and it’s made even funnier by the fact that the one person listening to it is the one person who truly despises disco music.
In terms of performances, there are no bad ones. Everyone knocks this out of the park, and with a cast that includes Jeff Daniels, Chiwetl Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Donald Glover (playing a nerdy spastic scientist…shocker), that should give you an idea of how good the acting is. It’s funny how this film has stars from both of the terrible movies mentioned earlier in it, and I like them both infinitely better here than in either of those films. As further credit to the acting, actors and actresses often known for strictly goofy comedic roles, like Michael Peña and Kristen Wiig, get to turn in solid dramatic performances that render them nearly unrecognizable. Truly there is not a single bad performance in the batch.
However, as stated at the beginning, the strength of this comes from the science, and how scientific prowess is used to overcome nigh on impossible scenarios. When I saw this, I was lucky enough to have a certified college level science teacher with me whom I could check with and ask about any science stuff I didn’t follow, which wasn’t much because the movie does an excellent job of explaining complex concepts even for laymen. According to her, for the most part, aside from the ending that we both agreed became a tad too cavalier with the science, the film holds up remarkably well. What’s also important, and it’s sad that I have to say this, the film never chastises its characters for being smart or blames them for not dumbing themselves down for the lowest common denominator. It connects to a wide audience despite its advanced scientific content through humor and relatable characters.
In terms of the plot, perhaps the only thing that can really be complained about is that it’s a tad too simple. There aren’t really any surprises in terms of plotting of the movie. All of the surprises come in the form of the various obstacles that must be overcome. While that simplicity isn’t really a problem for me, I can see how it would be for some, particularly due to the film’s length. However, once again, despite being roughly 140 minutes long, this film honestly flew by for me and I never noticed the length. Also, the script did not try to overly complicate the story in stupid and pointless ways. For example, there is no villain in this movie. The closest you have is the head of NASA (Jeff Daniels), and even he is just a man with a mountain of responsibilities and forced to make tough decisions that no one would ever want to make. Hell, in a movie made by Americans, even the CHINESE aren’t the villains! In fact, they give up on national pride and agree to aid the Americans in a showing of human solidarity in the face of adversity that would make Gene Roddenberry proud.
I have nothing else to say about The Martian. I think it’s a wonderful film that deserves to be seen because it manages to be both an educational science lesson and an engaging drama about human perseverance and potential human solidarity in the face of overwhelming odds. The cast is strong across the board, the script is well written and funny, and director Ridley Scott proves once again why he’s a legend in the industry. Go see this film. You won’t regret it.
This movie does everything right. Strong cast, funny writing and dialogue, and gorgeous, brilliant direction by Ridley Scott. Aside from minor pacing issues and an overly cavalier approach to science in its climax, The Martian approaches scientific exploration and the ideal of human collective action to overcome adversity in a way that would make Gene Roddenberry proud. Definitely a must see.