Every so often movie going audiences are treated to a film in the sci-fi genre that stands out as something special and is more of an emotional experience than just a special effects extravaganza. In 2013 we were given Alfonso Cuarón’s wonderful film GRAVITY and now, in 2015, we have Ridley’s Scott’s THE MARTIAN. With this movie, 20th Century Fox delivers a very moving take on the “survival story” that allows the viewer to experience some true inner emotions while witnessing a story filled with themes of genuine hope and triumph. Continue reading for more of our spoiler-free THE MARTIAN review.
Based on the novel by Andy Weir the story begins as a crew of astronauts is forced to evacuate their mission on Mars after a fierce storm threatens their lives. As the storm engulfs everything in its path most of the crew are lucky enough to escape, leaving botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind, presumed dead. Unbeknownst to everyone, Watney has actually survived and now, with only a meager amount of supplies, must rely on his training and determination to persevere until he can get a signal to NASA in the hopes of being rescued.
Unlike so many filmmakers that have placed their characters into the desperate situation of being stranded and alone only to have them sink into despair and desperation in order to draw sympathy from the viewer, director Ridley Scott, writer Drew Goddard and novelist Andy Weir don’t allow THE MARTIAN to fall into this trap. Mark Watney is more a symbol of inspiration than of doubt. As he faces his challenges, he does so with a never-say-die attitude. He knows that it will likely take four years for a rescue mission to reach him, but doesn’t let that stop him from moving forward with his plan to survive. At one point early on Watney declares, “I’m not gonna die here.” His refusal to give up in his struggle to remain alive gives this film its emotional edge.
Scott has always been a director who has had a flare for giving an amazing visual look to all of his films and he doesn’t disappoint here. Using the talents of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski he creates a film that should be seen in theaters so that the inspired imagery created in the Mars setups can be admired to their fullest, especially during the incredible long shots where the framing has Watney dwarfed by his surroundings.
Ultimately, THE MARTIAN is a movie that relies almost solely on the impact of its lead actor and Matt Damon proves once again why he is considered a true Movie Star. Here, he is given the kind of role that comes around maybe once in a lifetime and proves that he is more than up to the task. Bringing a certain amount of confidence to the role, the audience is never placed in the position of feeling sorry for Watney. He is a character who truly believes in himself and this quality is part of why we find it so easy to root for him. Damon plays the role with just the right mixture of drama and humor to keep the situation light and hopeful as opposed to dark and depressing.
The film is not a one-man show though. The story takes it’s time to break away from Watney’s struggle on Mars to show the impact on earth as the people at NASA (Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover) try to figure out a way to bring him home. We also get some time with Watney’s fellow crew members (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pèna, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie) who, upon finding out about his predicament, have to figure out how to handle the decision of whether or not to set off on an extremely dangerous rescue attempt. The supporting cast of actors are all particularly good in giving a balance to the film as they all have their own motivations in the quest to bring this lone astronaut home safely.
THE MARTIAN may be Scott’s best film since his 1982 masterpiece BLADERUNNER and that’s saying a lot considering his incredible resume over that period of time. A film that celebrates the themes of hope, inner strength and the true meaning of the human spirit, it is not only a must see, but is also destined to be one of the best movies that 2015 has to offer.