After two big duds in a row (The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings), director Ridley Scott is returning to the genre he helped define with films like Alien and Blade Runner. Sir Ridley is back in the Sci-Fi film realm with his new film The Martian starring Matt Damon. The movie is not one about little green men from the Red Planet, but a pioneer who must find a way to survive on planet all by himself with the limited supplies.
The best way to describe The Martian is a cross between Castaway and Apollo 13. During a man spaced mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is left marooned on Mars while the rest of his team travels home. Mark must find a way to survive on his own with limited supplies and even fewer resources until help arrives which could be never. The Martian makes the audience ponder what they would do in this situation and if they would be able to survive the isolation.
The Martian is a technical achievement delivered by Ridley Scott. I always compared Ridley Scott to a major league slugger. He can hit these booming homes runs with his films (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down & Thelma and Louise) or strike out swinging (Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies and A Good Year). This time Ridley knocks The Martian into the atmosphere with his efforts. Mars may be a red dusty dead planet, but Ridley creates a beautiful film that should be seen in IMAX 3-D.
The rocky rust color mountains of Mars are gorgeous as Watney joy rides around the planet making do with what he has. Ridley uses all the technology at his disposal using GoPro cameras for many of the shots and sequences. The editing between the shots is seamless and I expect The Martian to be a major player on the technical side when award seasons begins. Ridley Scott’s execution is flawless, but what makes The Martian special is its heart which is provided by a career defining performance by Matt Damon.
Damon gives you a wide range of emotions as this stranded space traveler including despair, hope, laughter and a sense of accomplishment when he finds new ways to survive. Damon is on his own for most of the film and owns every scene he’s in. By talking to the NASA video journals throughout The Martian, it seems as if Watney is talking directly to the audience as he tries to grow plants on a planet where nothing is alive. It’s an interesting way to incorporate the audience with the fourth wall being broke, but Damon makes it work and helps create an enthralling experience as if you were stuck on Mars with the space cast away during his trials and errors.
It’s not a total one man show like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Damon is the main focus and is on his own for most of the movie, but the rest of the cast is solid and manages to make the most of their limited screen time. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels and Michael Peña provide stellar support as the NASA officials and crew members who will MacGyver any item they can tell help Watney survive. Their goal is to bring him home, which is a huge theme in the movie. It would be easy to leave the lost crew member on the planet to die and go with the thinking that he knew what he was signing up for. The Martian instead gives us a story of hope where the needs of the one, outweigh the needs of the many.
Overall, I give The Martian 3.5 out of 4 stars.