When Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left for dead on the red planet, NASA declares him a hero. A funeral is had and a monument is erected in his honor. The problem is that Mark ain’t dead.
As the sad news is delivered to his friends and family back home, a very much alive Mark struggles to figure out how to make his limited food and water supplies stretch. Meanwhile, his fellow astronauts, actively mourning his “loss,” are headed back to Earth in their spaceship. But when Mark figures out a way communicate with home, everything changes.
Director Ridley Scott returns to science fiction in a big way with “The Martian,” writer Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller. Fascinating and inspirational, Scott may have his best film in years – “The Martian” is a real winner.
No doubt falling into the “hard science” variety of the often ridiculous and fantastical genre, everything in this film feels authentic and grounded. Months pass as Mark implements plans including methodically growing potatoes, which, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, takes about 10 weeks here on our planet. Mars is a barren and cold place where nothing grows, but Mark’s a botanist and figures out a practical, if particularly stinky, way to farm. And it’s really interesting even to the point of being magical.
Unlike “Cast Away,” which I really liked, “The Martian” isn’t exclusively a one-man show. There is a large cast of characters, all recognizable faces, who work feverishly to rescue Mark.NASA is led by the no-nonsense Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), who has to constantly deal with transparency issues staying one step ahead of the press on Earth.
His PR liaison, Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig), helps him manage the media storm while Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) engages the best brains to mount a return mission. One of those minds is Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong), who is seen largely in video conference calls. These people, and there are plenty more in the cast, all have first and last names, which you don’t always see in movies, and they have formal job titles designating each on-screen role and purpose.
The dizzying process is busy, and even though it is all told in a matter-of-fact fashion, it is impossible not to watch and appreciate the complex web that makes up the rescue team.
Damon plays Mark Watney as a really optimistic dude. And this optimism and “can-do” personality seems solidly credible. After all, if you were chosen to travel from one planet to another, you are probably a person who values life but also embraces death as a constant companion.
And this gives Mark a sarcastic, funny side as he jokes his way through his misadventure abroad. Most of the time, Mark talks to many different cameras (that look like Go-Pros) all scattered about his Martian home. Mark’s internal monologue helps us get inside him – it’s damned endearing.
If there is a failing to “The Martian,” it’s that we ultimately know how it ends. The tension builds consistently, but never did I feel that Mark was in danger of dying. And the action is a bit artificially pushed, especially during a “Gravity” like sequence. Comparisons to “Interstellar” are inevitable, especially with the presence of Matt Damon in both films.
But “The Martian” is a far better film in which the science seems to be believable and informative. And it’s the hard science combined with a human story of one-man’s rescue that makes “The Martian” fascinating and irresistible entertainment.