“The Martian” can stand as another Ridley Scott sci-fi masterwork : 4.5/5
Ridley Scott has colonized Mars, officially and in every sense of the term. He has not only put a man on Mars, but has done it for millions, those being the one sitting in the dark in movie theaters around the world. I was one of those people, and I will have to say that the experience is exhilarating.
Ridley Scott is no stranger to this, as he has directed great films throughout his whole career, not just in the sci-fi genre, which is admittedly his strong suit (the obvious examples of such films being “Alien” and “Blade Runner”), but has also shown a talent for great, sprawling epics, which dazzle visually where they sometimes lack in emotional and narrative heft. “The Martian” takes those two styles and throws them into the melting pot of “The Martian” and makes them into one of the best films of the year and one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.
Even so, this is not solely Scott’s show. “The Martian” has no shortage of style to go with its substance. The film is stuffed with great performances, and its Oscar-nod-worthy screenplay drips with dry humor and real character moments, often sharing the same frame. The characters joke, and while we as the audience laugh, the characters laugh, but it is an uneasy laughter, weighed down by the incoming threat of failure. Yet why do they still laugh? Partially for encouragement, partially for denial, partially for the sake of optimism, partially because it is a damn funny movie.
In the film, Matt Damon plays astronaut and botanist Mark Watney, who is a member of the Ares program, a branch of NASA responsible for missions to Mars. While Matt Damon is on Mars with his crew, a sandstorm hits, forcing the crew to abandon the mission, and striking Watney with a piece of debris, and supposedly killing him. The crew abandons him on Mars, and heads back to Earth. However, in a miraculous bit of luck, Watney is alive, and takes shelter in the Hub, a Mars base built for research. So he must figure out how to survive on Mars, and how to contact Earth when his coffin has already been lowered.
This situation could easily be the setup of scores of depressing Hollywood films, fraught with tears and morbid dialogue. Yet “The Martian” is different. It is optimistic, plastering a smile on your face and a laugh building in your gut. The whole cast seems to be having a blast, proving that you don’t have to be a downer to turn in an exceptional performance. While Damon is incredible (he has to be, you spend most of the film with him), the film is well balanced, cutting back to the workers at NASA, who prove to be almost equal to Watney in form of entertainment. Great actors abound, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, and most impressively Chiwetel Ejiofor. For a film so loaded with characters, it is so rare that each character is an individual, each with their own personality, flaws, and quirks. This is a deeply character-driven film, rather predictably so, as this is a blockbuster without action or chase scenes.
This film is without a doubt going to be compared to the past two annual astronaut films, 2013’s “Gravity” and 2014’s “Interstellar”. “The Martian” is completely different to these films. While these other admittedly good movies use loud pounding music and huge set pieces to excite, “The Martian” surpasses both these movies not only quality, but in thrills. I will have admit that I am sort of a sucker for realism in this day and age of over-the-top blockbusters, but it is refreshing to see a film that uses science and logic to solve its problems. Any astronaut could be Mark Watney, stranded with no contact with Earth, armed with nothing but his wits. Would we help him? I like to think we would. If there is one thing “The Martian” has taught is that sometimes, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.