Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan,Aksel Hennie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
With Ridley Scott’s most recent films having been significant disappointments, there was initially a lot of uncertainty surrounding his most recent film: The Martian. Fortunately, Scott has proven that Alien was no fluke – outer space is where he shines. The Martian does little-to-no wrong, and although I haven’t read the book, I’ve heard from others who have that the film even outshines the novel it’s based upon. The Martian is a film that everyone should see for its empowering messages, expertly-crafted script, stellar acting, and stunning visual effects.
The story begins amidst the Ares III manned mission to Mars, which is suddenly hit by an intense storm. Astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a flying piece of debris, leading the team to assume him dead and leave the planet. As we all know, Watney is alive, and he quickly realizes that he’s stranded with no way of contacting NASA. Even if he does find a way to communicate with the association, Watney will store before a rescue mission can arrive. With this knowledge, Watney’s goals become finding a way to communicate with NASA and figuring out how to grow crops on Mars.
The storyline of The Martian is crafted quite skillfully, for which the credit must go to Andy Weir (novelist) and screenplay writer Drew Goddard. Goddard is known for the writing he’s done for many TV shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Lost, and most recently, Daredevil. He’s also written a handful of films, and The Martian certainly suggests that he should increase that number. The film obviously has a central problem – getting Mark Watney home. In spite of this, focus is more often on the obstacles immediately in front of the hero, such as when Mark is trying to make water and grow crops, or when he’s trying to figure out a system of communication with NASA. Ordinarily, I don’t like this type of organization in a plot, but in this case it works. By keeping the attention on each baby step taken (with the bigger picture still in mind), the writers save the story from becoming a depressing trudge through the mud as well as enforce the overarching message of persisting even when the future seems bleak. Also, the story is chock full of comedic moments and running gags, such as the fact that Watney is stuck on Mars and the only music he can listen to is disco. The comedy seems quite natural, and whenever Watney cracks a joke it comes off as a coping mechanism he’s using to keep himself sane. My point – Goddard has done a masterful job with this screenplay.
Overall, the film is much less tense than you would expect. (And this is where I segue into what I’ve been itching to talk about from the first sentence.) Matt Damon nails his performance as Mark Watney, and I’ll even go as far as saying that this is the best role I’ve seen him in. The script has a lot of jokes (keeping the film light in the appropriate places), and Damon delivers them perfectly. He truly creates a relatable protagonist and completely encompasses the role. Although Matt Damon practically owns this movie (as far as acting goes), there are several other cast members who deserve recognition. Donald Glover (better known in the music industry as Childish Gambino) plays Rich Purnell, an astronomer who crafts the masterplan which ends up saving Watney’s life. Glover makes a mere appearance in the film, but his scenes are certainly memorable ones, providing key plot points and comedic relief. Finally, Jessica Chastain plays Ares III Commander Melissa Lewis, and she gives a very moving performance. When Lewis discovers she has marooned Watney on Mars, she understandably feels guilty and obligated to do everything in her power to bring him home. Chastain does a fantastic job showing the remorse Lewis feels, but also makes her a determined and strong leader. Overall, the acting in The Martian is superb across the board, and the cast works well together.
As I mentioned, Ridley Scott has gotten a lot of flack for his past few films – none quite matching the caliber of his opus, Alien (1979). The Martian, however, will place Scott back in the good graces of his fans; it’s easily one of the best films of 2015. Not only is the film an engaging and memorable experience, it also brings up many important themes such as humanism and perseverance. Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction films (personally, space scares me to pieces), I urge you to give The Martian a shot.