Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover.
Ridley Scott returns to space with his new movie, and clearly it’s his comfort zone, which is a good thing, because his new movie is fun and riveting. After helming one of the best space movies, in my opinion, with 1979’s Alien, Scott has tried his hand at a variety of genres, from sword and sandal epics (Gladiator) to sequels centered around famous cannibals (Hannibal), but his film about aliens and the badass Capt. Ridley is still a standout in his filmography. Alien and The Martian share little in common aside from both being films set in outer space, but this film marks a return to form for the director whose recent productions have either been disappointing or controversial.
Based on the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the premise is as exciting as it is nail biting: a man gets left behind on Mars by his fellow crew members after a sandstorm. The film is intriguing because it could go wrong, and very easily, in a huge number of ways. A film like this one must be perfectly paced and utilize a protagonist who can sustain acting alone and still retain audience interest. The viewer must keep rooting for him throughout and if at any point the audience becomes bored or deaf to the main character’s plight, then the battle has been lost, no matter the final outcome of the plot. Movies like this are hard, I disliked Castaway because I simply stopped caring about Hanks’ character and never felt the appropriate level of empathy for him, so to make the trick work everything has to go right. Luckily The Martian is a true success.
The astronaut left behind, Mark Whatney, is played by Matt Damon, who proves to be exceptional, as he navigates a gamut of emotions from fear, to anger, courage, and even buffoonery. Surprisingly, there is a lot of levity to this film and this adds to the success of the movie, since the audience is allowed to laugh and share moments of joy, which cut through other times so nerve wracking and intense. The fact that the audience feels the same emotions as Whatney is testament to Damon’s very impressive acting skills. Last year’s Interstellar (which, incidentally, starred Damon and Jessica Chastain as well) was messy, confusing, and tonally all over the place. The Martian is a much stronger film, and it knows exactly what it wants to be: a thrilling survival and adventure movie, light on the science without losing credibility, because it actually is very well researched, it’s just not preachy or overly academic. The attention shifts between Whatney on Mars, to the employees at NASA (Daniels, Ejiofor, Wiig, Bean, Glover), to the crew returning to Earth (Chastain, Mara, Peña, Stan), which provides enough scenery changing to prevent the Mars scenes from going on too long and becoming stale in the process.
The viewer is invested the entire time, which ultimately leads to a great and truly successful movie one can root for.