‘The Martian’ Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Martian

5 out of 5

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‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Review

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Dir: Anthony and Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Maximilano Hernandez, and Robert Redford

Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review. Also, (of course being a Marvel movie) stay for the credits, both of them.*

 

 

Loosely based on the Ed Brubaker arc The Winter Soldier, Marvel raises the bar and scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Russo Brothers-directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The movie follows super soldier Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) working for/with Nick Fury when they discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. may be compromised. Unsure of whom, if anyone, to trust, they must uncover a hidden threat before everything they know it torn apart.

 

The movie is one of, if not the strongest individual installments to date. Besides being a superhero/comic book adventure the movie is also, in many ways, a character journey with elements of a spy action thriller. The Winter Soldier hits all of the right notes and gives us the best of what comic book movies have to offer. The scale of the film alone is a huge and ambitious take for Marvel. Not only is it a great sequel but it also feels like a sequel to The Avengers in some way too. However, the ambitious take of this is the fact the movie has some major repercussions will change the Cinematic Universe and should be interesting how they manage that in the future movies.

 

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed everything close to perfection. The movie moves at great pace and never once does it seem like the time is wasted. Car chases, hardcore hand-to-hand combat, aerial dogfights and intense gun battles are interwoven that combines elements of at least three genres. But, another thing they do great is the humor. The movie even starts with a joke and though the plot is filled with serious themes and plenty of drama, it never forgets to make us laugh.  They’re not ironic laughs or defensive ones.  They’re just good-hearted, clever jokes, and they’re yet another example of why the movie is successful.
Not only does the film potentially shake-up the structure of their entire cinematic universe, but the creators understand the political thriller enough to get that if they’re going to do one, and do it well, then they’re going to have to introduce a strong point-of-view about something that is relevant to our world – and that they do. The Winter Soldier offers a strong perspective about a current political hot button issue – the cost and meaning of freedom. The execution isn’t hitting us over the head but is gone in a graceful way. There are ideas to think about, if you are into that, but at its core, the movie remains a fast paced piece of entertainment.

 

All that being said, usually character development gets lost when trying to expand the plot but with The Winter Soldier, character isn’t sacrificed. The big and small moments are equally filled with tension and there is some powerful development in this film. Of course the big one is Steve Rogers, the man out of time. There is a sequence early on in the film that hits the nail with the hammer, and is a bit sad to see but really shows the vulnerability of Rogers in this film. But, even with that said, early on and throughout the movie, we see him Rogers as a real badass. The shield is even utilized more as an offensive as much as a defensive one.

 

If Chris Evans didn’t prove himself to anybody that he is Steve Rogers or Captain America, then this will surely prove it. Evans brings a depth to the character that has not been seen yet. But, it’s Cap’s partner Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow that also has an arc here as well. Scarlett Johansson has played the character as many times as Evans and it isn’t until now that we get to know more about her. She is given a ton more to do than just be eye candy. Evans and Johansson have tremendous chemistry, and their witty banter or confrontations only adds to that.

 

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury also gets more time to shine this time around. He plays a major role in the events of the movie but also brings in more humor and emotion than any of his other appearances.

 

New addition to the cast is Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam Wilson aka Falcon. A former solider himself, he now works at the VA helping soldiers who come back from war. Mackie brings in a good sense of charisma as Cap’s sidekick but has a great, possibly scene-stealing action sequence. Emily VanCamp’s Agent 13 will make some comic book fans happy, and give them a possible hint of things to come even though she doesn’t really do too much in the movie.

 

Then there is the odd one out of the bunch, Robert Redford who plays Alexander Pierce. Of course Redford has his share of spy-thrillers but in a way it also brings the spy thriller of this movie out in front. He brings the weight of his cinematic legacy with him, which also helps us to immediately buy into his character’s power and authority.

 

Finally, there is the man himself, The Winter Soldier. It’s arguable that Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is – other than Loki – Marvel’s most successful, and terrifying, villain to date. Of course, if you are an avid comic reader than you know who and what The Winter Soldier is. His background is given in the movie as his history through time until now. Stan plays him in a heartbreaking and legitimately chilling way. He is relentless, feels unstoppable, and will do anything to complete his mission. Whenever he shows up, you are genuinely worried for anybody standing in his way.

 

All in all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a game changer in every sense of the word. It’s funny, thrilling, action packed and above all, it’s entertaining as hell.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

5 out of 5