This big-screen take on Andy Weir’s best selling novel is director Ridley Scott’s strongest film in over a decade. It’s an inspirational story of perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds. While it will most certainly draw comparisons to “Apollo 13” and “Cast Away,” it emerges as a stunning cinematic experience punctuated by hope, optimism, and a surprising amount of humor.
In “The Martian,” botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself stranded on the red planet after his team, who fear their crew member is dead, are forced to evacuate during a brutal storm. Upon waking up, face down in the red dirt with a severe injury, Watney immediately comes to the realization that he’s in serious trouble. He refuses to roll over and die, though. Instead, his survival instincts kick in and ultimately, this crafty botanist patches himself up, constructs a green house using his own shit to raise crops, and valiantly tells Mars to eff off. If that isn’t a rousing enough set-up, then I don’t know what is.
Ridley Scott is a visual stylist of the highest order, and while there are certainly spectacular images to speak of in “The Martian,” Scott trades in the prominent razzle dazzle of Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking thrill ride, “Gravity,” for a more grounded tale of survival and humanity.
Screenwriter Drew Goddard does good by Andy Weir’s novel, bringing a strong sense of character and an even stronger sense of positivity to the proceedings. This is a tale of survival and geek-out science to be sure, but more importantly, “The Martian” is about people. Goddard’s screenplay is overflowing with compassion. Is one man worth all the trouble NASA, a foreign country, and an emotionally distraught space craft crew are willing to go through to bring him home? “The Martian” emphatically says “Yes!”
Interestingly enough, a stellar Damon charted similar terrain as a lone soldier who would find himself part of a rescue mission in Steven Spielberg’s unforgettable “Saving Private Ryan.” The “Good Will Hunting” star is at his very best here as the quintessential everyman. He’s charming, smart, strong, and funny, and he positively oozes empathy. We want to see this man succeed. And as Tom Hanks did so beautifully in “Cast Away,” Damon effortlessly carries the majority of “The Martian” on his capable shoulders.
While Damon is the lead here, “The Martian” is populated by a wealth of wonderful actors including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Donald Glover. Scott wisely gives each actor a moment to shine all while keeping the focus on Watney and his seemingly impossible ordeal.
This is a special movie. With all its tension and conflict, it shows the very best of humanity by simply telling a story about people who are willing to help other people no matter what the cost, and given the world we’re living in right now, “The Martian” couldn’t be anymore welcome.