The Martian was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard. It’s based on the initially self-published sci-fi novel of the same name by Andy Weir. The movie has a massive cast that I won’t be able to list off here, but the main players are Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Several decades in the future, NASA has expanded enough to send manned ships to Mars. During one of these routine missions, Mark Watney (played by Damon) is left behind and presumed dead when a massive storm threatens to kill his crew. He awakens to find himself alone on Mars with nearly zero supplies and the harsh reality that it will be years before anyone can rescue him.
What plays out is a struggle for Watney to use his wits and ingenuity to survive on this harsh planet while everyone on Earth uses their own wits to get to him before time runs out. There’s also his crew, led by Commander Lewis (Chastain), headed to Earth having to deal with the fact that they left their crewman and friend behind.
Going in, it’s easy to see a lot of similarities between The Martian and Apollo 13. The author, Weir, was certainly inspired by this and other space films. This isn’t a bad thing because The Martian has its own voice and style thanks to Ridley Scott’s signature knack for making futuristic sci-fi feel accessible. And Weir, of course, brought his own background as an engineer to the original source material, making The Martian feel very authentic.
I haven’t read the book, and I’m probably the opposite of a scientist, but the film managed to keep me engaged with the more complicated details surrounding Damon’s problems and solutions that could have easily gone over my head. There were still some moments where I felt a little lost, but it never took me out of the movie.
While the scenes outside of Mars are great, the movie really excels whenever Damon is onscreen. Mark Watney is a refreshing optimist who is nearly impossible to dislike. He’s funny and cracks jokes throughout his dilemma, but Damon also delivers some heavy, desolate scenes that are some of his best to date.
In fact, Damon’s performance ultimately saves the entire movie. If you don’t like his character and want to root for him, then you’ll have a hard time believing that everyone on Earth is willing to spend billions of dollars and months out of their lives to save him, even though the odds of success are perpetually low.
It helps that everyone who’s seen Saving Private Ryan has gotten used to Matt Damon being someone worth rescuing, even if that means putting your entire life on hold. Because Mark Watney is such a fun character, I was able to ignore how strange this entire setup was and just enjoy the ride.
My only real issues with the film have to do with how some of the characters on Earth have limited roles despite being played by such big-name actors. Most of them are only in the movie to share exposition or explain something for a few sentences. Sure, we get to see Donald Glover play a mean Abed, and there’s one scene involving Sean Bean that had me in tears (the good kind).
But aside from Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Benedict Wong, I didn’t find myself loving any of these side characters that much. Though it’s a small complaint considering how incredible Ejiofor’s performance was, even if the minor roles felt a little underdeveloped.
That said, The Martian is a witty, funny, and sometimes nerve-wracking movie that goes back and forth between charming lines of dialogue and believable peril. For my money, it’s one of the best films of the year and one of the best space movies of the decade.
Please do yourself a favor and see this one on the big screen. It’s not every year that we get a Ridley Scott film that feels like a new classic.
If you’ve seen The Martian, let me know your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to check out our podcast review coming this Sunday, where we’ll talk about the film in more detail.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni