Hot Take: Ridley Scott’s best since Gladiator. Matt Damon’s best since Good Will Hunting. 2015’s best so far. The Martian has an excellent mix of emotion, tension, humor, action and intelligence and partners it with beautiful visions of Mars. It’s a great experience.
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind after a fierce storm cuts a manned mission to Mars short and Mark’s crew thinks Watney is dead. Not dead (Surprise!), Watney must science the shit out of things to survive long enough for the next manned Mars mission to arrive… in four years, unless NASA can speed up the timeline with a rescue.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing The Martian to other films. Gravity and Cast Away stand out as the closest comparisons. However, the only real comparisons are in what The Martian accomplishes that other films like it do not. For example, at the center of Gravity and The Martian is an astronaut stranded in space. Not to be too critical of Gravity but when things fall apart, it’s hard to accept the way Sandra Bullock’s character disintegrates for someone who is supposed to have some level of competence when it comes to space travel. Even though there are moments of panic early on from Damon’s Watney, he pulls it together and uses his ability and training to keep it together.
What makes The Martian really great is the way director Scott doesn’t waste a scene. The creation of Mars is stunning and captures the isolation of Watney’s predicament without dwelling on it. Actually, the film dwells on very little and thrusts you into Watney’s scientific survivalist efforts simultaneously with NASA’s rescue mission. Maintaining this delicate balance is what delivers a truly special cinematic experience. At the very least, The Martian should be a Best Picture candidate.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Humorous Overtones and Interpersonal Relationships
While Damon’s charisma and his character’s sense of humor in the face of a terrible predicament are the focal point, the rest of the cast delivers strong, smart and witty performances. Even though the movie doesn’t explore it, you get a strong sense of camaraderie between Damon and the crew who left him behind as well as the team given the task to bring Watney back.
- The Science Is Sound
There are a number of hard to believe moments in The Martian but NASA has signed off on the science. If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for me.
- The Emotional Attachment
This isn’t the first time Ridley Scott has found a way to quickly attach me to a character or group of characters. By the end, I was fully invested and on the edge of my seat.
- Making Two-Plus Hours Fly By
Any time you see a run time of 140+ minutes and walk out of the theater instantly wanting to see the film again… that’s a huge accomplishment!
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Questions About The Storm That Strands Watney
Maybe the 2011 novel the film is based on (by Andy Weir) explains it better but is this a regular occurrence on Mars or an anomaly? It’s relatively unimportant with the notable exception that it doesn’t seem to be a concern to happen again. Maybe there’s a reason it’s no longer a concern but we’re not in on it.