Review: The Martian

Ordinarily, a Ridley Scott directed film that involves space is associated with drooling Xenomorphs who have acid for blood. This time, Scott is directing The Martian – an adaptation based on Andy Weir’s novel about an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who’s accidentally left on Mars (oops!), his battle for survival, and the efforts to bring him back home.

For those wondering, Matt Damon’s journey in The Martian is not a spinoff of Interstellar. It doesn’t show Mann’s Lazarus Mission up until Cooper finds him covered in plastic like a microwave burrito. The Drew Goddard adapted screenplay is much lighter and funnier than Iterstellar and most “stranded survival” films of its kind.

Instead of focusing on Watney’s loneliness and his slow spiral into craziness  (See: Castaway), the film focuses on the science Watney uses to survive and the efforts from NASA, science and otherwise, to help him survive on a planet with no water, no water, and nasty sand storms.

The Martian is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who previously worked with Scott on Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Counselor, adds his magical touch.  Everything at NASA is dark and shaded like everyone is working in the shadows while Mars is a beautiful deserted planet that’s bright red and grays. Being stranded never looked so good.

The best part – It’s a movie about science that actually uses science to support all the decisions that are made. No matter how unbelievable or how much “MacGyvering” Watney uses to save his life time-and-time again, there’s a scientific reason why and it’s explained.

Damon is the star of the film, but his supporting cast is just as good. Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor Jessica Chastain, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, and everyone’s favorite Winter Soldier Sebastian Stan add a comedic touch and some levity to a film that should be much more frightening. One of the best scenes involves a Lord of the Rings joke with Sean Bean in the room. Seriously, there’s a bit about Lord of the Rings that takes place in a NASA office with Sean Bean present. That has to be worth at least 100 Nerd Points.

The only issue is the film – it never feels like Mark Watney is in danger. There’s nothing more dangerous than space. What’s even more dangerous is being stranded in space on a planet with no water and minimal food. The script says he’s in danger, we know Mars is dangerous, we know Watney’s Space Uber is going to take years to arrive, yet it never actually feels like he’s in danger.

Maybe it’s the tone of the film that relieves any tension during Watney’s “Castaway” moments. A little more, “I don’t know if he’s going to make it” would’ve helped add some tension. Just a little bit.

The Martian is the kind of big budget popcorn movie that needs to be seen in theaters. This Ridley Scott’s best film since Kingdom of Heaven. Despite it being a predictable space drama with a 141 min runtime, the film is a lot fun and edited in a way that doesn’t make it feel like long. A fantastic screenplay, breathtaking cinematography, and electrifying performances always make for an exciting time at the movies. The Martian nails all three, and then some.

Grade: B+