The Martian is a film that is both lonely and inviting at the same time. Directed by Ridley Scott, this science fiction drama never questions the audience’s intelligence and brings us what is arguably the most breathtaking realization of the planet Mars ever. Based on a book of the same name by author Andy Weir, The Martian is mostly successful in telling the story of fictional astronaut/botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon). After enduring a vicious storm with his space crew, Watney finds himself stranded on the red planet alone and with minimal supplies. Now having to figure how to survive until rescue arrives, we follow the perilous highs and lows that Watney must endure. So how does The Martian stack up in the end of this two and a half hour journey? Despite a few issues, the captivating scope Ridley Scott sets out to achieve is largely successful.
While the majority of the supporting cast, aside from Sean Bean’s character, are incredibly enjoyable, it’s Matt Damon’s portrayal of Watney that drives this film. It’s a very difficult task to have our principle character interact with essentially just the audience via video diaries and not have it pull us from the story telling itself. His performance is superb, giving Watney an incredible emotion range both physically and mentally that we are able to connect to. He is not Superman or the greatest mind on all of Earth; Watney is a man simply trying to survive day by day. His delivery of the video logs doesn’t come off as simple exposition dumps to drag the viewers along, but a genuine way for Damon’s character to connect. Credit must be given to screenplay writer Drew Goddard for never keeping the film overbearingly depressing, despite the fact the situation can exactly call for that. Watney’s humor acts as a way to keep both the moral of himself and us as viewers up, allowing us a sense of connection to his dangerous circumstances.
The rest of the principle cast including Watney’s crew, NASA chief Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), and the other NASA directors (including actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) all deliver their performances competently. The dynamic among the cast felt organic and I actually enjoyed the fact that their was no principle human antagonist. I say human because one could easily make the argument that Mars is the villain in this show, yet it never comes off as that. Mars is beautifully haunting in every way. There is a palpable sense of discovery, intrigue, and terror when Watney explores the face of the planet. You never truly feel comfortable with his surroundings and once the film offers a possible sense of this comfort it takes measures to rip that hope from underneath your feet. Much like Watney you are always on your toes, waiting for the winds to shift and turn the tables on our astronaut. From a design standpoint alone Mars is truly an impressive feat that very few could have pulled off as perfectly.
Cinematography in general was fantastic, offering us a plethora of visual splendors to watch. Whether its the floating spacecrafts, the haunting vistas of Mars, or frantic labs back on Earth; there is typically a sense of urgency. However, sadly, this dies out near the second act quite quickly when the film decides to slow down considerably. The scenes we get back on Earth are fine, but you lose a real feeling of pace with The Martian. It no longer becomes how is Damon’s character going to survive, but how long is it going to take before NASA attempts to mount a mission to save him. This causes the film to drag considerably, as if it’s going through the motions to lay every possible reason out how certain ways could never save Mark. Worse yet, during this second act we lose a lot of Watney’s character completely. Scott choosing to focus on the people back on Earth and their struggles with this challenge over the actual star of the show feels like a poor choice. Yes, it’s important we see how the mission to Mars is planned, but way too much time is spent on this concept.
Not to mention Sean Bean’s character (NASA’s crew manager) seems incredibly forced into scenes. It’s as if Bean’s character only serves the purpose of blatantly pointing out the moral dilemmas of the entire situation. He serves as nothing more than a walking plot device and excuse to move certain elements of the plot forward. Part of me half expected Bean to turn to the camera and begin to speak on the moralities of possibly sacrificing one man for the sake of a crew of five. This is unneeded as we the audience can easily debate the moralities of that cause without the film pointing us in certain directions. Yet, these issues never truly weight down the entire movie as a whole as the third act makes up for lost time quickly.
Overall The Martian is another impressive accomplishment for Ridley Scott, offering a far a more realistic take on the science fiction genre. It’s a film that a small television wouldn’t do justice, despite the shoehorned in 3D aspects. Damon gives one of his best performances in recent memory, that could possibly give him an award nod. Seriously this is not a movie to miss in theaters and one that will have your mouth open with awe inspiring visuals throughout. Take that Neil Armstrong.