Director: Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejifor
Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott takes the helm of telling a story of probably someone’s worst fear: being left behind alone on a different planet. Scott has been on slump lately, but The Martian is the film that may get him back on track.
The film really jumps right into the action and story. The film take place on Sol 18 (“Sol” is a Martian day) of a 31-Sol mission on Mars. Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow Ares III crewmembers are hit by a storm sooner than they anticipated. Seeing that they are left with no choice, Commander Lewis (Chastain) orders the crew to leave Mars, but while the crew attempts to escape, the storm hits and Watney is struck by debris and vanishes into the storm. Lewis stays back a bit to search for him, but the crew eventually assumes he’s dead and leaves. Of course, Watney survives – not without getting impaled in the stomach – and makes his way back to their base of operations known as The Hab.
There Watney realizes besides his biggest problem of being left behind on an isolated planet has to deal with other problems. He has no way to communicate with NASA, he doesn’t have enough food and the food he does have only will only last a few weeks, and finally, the next mission to Mars won’t arrive for four years. So left on the planet with nothing but wits and need to survive, he’s going to, as he puts it, “science the shit out of this.”
I actually read Andy Weir’s book prior to watching the film and Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard keep the spirit of the novel intact, and while changes were made The Martian is a pretty faithful adaptation. The film leaves out a good chuck of the science that Watney talks and does about his time on Mars, and what he does to make sure he doesn’t run oxygen, water, or food. Instead, Scott focuses more on the immediacy of the issue that Watney faces, and while some of the science is there, it’s scattered throughout, and the focus becomes how Watney will survive on Mars and what NASA is doing to save him. It’s really a bad move really, even though the film marks in at about two and half hours.
Despite this, a film like this lives and dies with the lead, and Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is great. Damon may have not been on everyone’s wish list to play Watney, but Damon brings everything to the character that he can and that task is not easy. Damon is pretty much alone for the whole film and thanks to Damon’s always reliable acting chops. We feel for Watney and want to root for him. The other thing that Damon brings to Watney, and the film that will surprise some people, is humor. The Martian is surprisingly funny and filled with humor throughout. If you’re wondering how Watney doesn’t go crazy – and how the humor comes into play – Watney video records everything for NASA’s log and much like a scientist, he is documenting everything he does taking us along for the ride.
While The Martian is on Damon’s shoulders to carry, a lead is only as good as their supporting characters, and the film has great supporting characters and actors. The Ares III crew chemistry is solid and you believe that these people have been together for months with the banter being fresh and quick. Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis is the stern and no-nonsense leader, Michael Pena’s Martinez, the pilot, shares most if not all the banter between Watney and its pretty damn great to hear and watch. Sebastian Stan’s Beck, the doctor, and Askel Hennie’s Vogel, the chemist get lost in the shuffle a bit, but have their moments. Finally, Kate Mara’s Johanssen, the tech, gets her moment to shine too, but with Pena and Chastain getting more of the attention, she also gets lost.
The NASA and Earth characters are as great as Damon. Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, and is looking out the agency as a whole and while his decisions may look like he’s being a hard-ass or the suit bad guy, Daniels gives Sander a special feel. Chiwetel Ejifor’s Vincent Kapoor plays the Mars Missions supervisor and has some great moments especially when he’s across Daniels and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson, who is the Ares III’s supervisor. Anytime the three characters are together, the scenes pop because everyone is trying to pull the power away from each other. The scenes also bring the two different sides of the argument that people would face if this ever happened.
Kristen Wiig plays NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose who has some funny scenes and honestly, I thought was great casting, although I wished they kept more of her lines from the book. Mackenzie Davis plays Mindy Park, who is the first to discover that Watney is alive on Mars and keeps track on him through satellites. Finally Donald Glover and Benedict Wong plays an astrodynamics engineer that tries to figure out a way to bring Watney home and an engineer that works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that tries to communicate with Watney on Mars and brings up an idea that could get Watney more food.
The Martian won’t be for everyone. The film does follow Watney as he’s on Mars and tries to survive, and while it’s great to see how he does it and not go crazy, the film is a slow burn and moves at pace that could make people lose focus. However, the pacing and the editing between Earth and Mars should make the film go by fasting that it really is.
All in all, The Martian is a great human story about survival. What helps the film is the great cast, especially Matt Damon who carries the film with ease, and director Ridley Scott who shots the film in such a way that it does make you think they shot the film on Mars. The Martian is definitely one of the best films of the year.
5 out of 5