As far as sci-fi movies go, The Martian is much more realistic than most. It follows Mark Watney, an astronaut who, presumed dead, was left stranded on Mars. Knowing that survival is a longshot, he determines to “science the shit” out of his problem and survive until the next Mars mission. In four years. Despite his determination, survival is a longshot, but that does not stop him from trying.
The movie then becomes about Watney’s ingenuity and refusal to give up. Being a Botanist by trade, Watney turns part of the habitat into a garden to grow potatoes and then rigs up a way to keep them watered without depleting his drinking water supply. Every problem he faces he comes up with an on the spot solution. It is an ode to perseverance and thinking on one’s feet. Back on Earth, it is soon discovered that he is alive and NASA tries to figure out how to handle the problem and how to get Watney back home. Even they have to scrounge up ways to help him.
There is something uncommonly optimistic about The Martian. It is that the closest thing the movie has to a villain is a guy who thinks it is more important to bring 5 Astronauts home safely than to risk their lives to have a better chance of saving one or that when faced with either using their secret rocket to help the Americans or keeping it for their own use, the Chinese space program barely hesitates to lend their aid. The Martian supposes a world where human life is more important to people than political concerns and national borders. It only vaguely resembles the real world, but it is a world we could have.
While there is much to love about The Martian, there are some weak spots. The movie keeps introducing new characters for entirety of its run time, which can be jarring. Some of the dialogue is more than a little one the nose. In one scene, the guys at NASA breakdown how long it will take to get supplies to Watney and then end the scene by saying ominously “If nothing goes wrong.” That scene transitions right into things going wrong.
Still, that is more than made up for by the wonderful hopefulness of the movie and its excellent effects. Ridley Scott’s recent efforts may have produced middling results, but even his weaker efforts (*cough*Prometheus*cough*) have been visually captivating. The cast is the very definition of star studded, with Matt Damon joined by the likes of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Michael Pena and Jeff Daniels, among other notables. They all do good work, filling in some rather thin characters with glimpses of humanity.
The Martian is utterly captivating. Matt Damon makes the marooned Watney come alive. It is not an especially complex movie, being largely Robinson Crusoe in space with an overriding love for science. It is easy to compare it to last year’s science fiction hit Interstellar. Interstellar, which also featured Damon and Chastain, was a more ambitious movie with a more ambitious plot, but the end result was less satisfying. The floppiness of the ending, moving away from scientific principles to fancies weakened the overall structure of what was an excellent movie. The Martian stays more grounded, though it is not without its fantastical moments, and feel more cohesive than Interstellar did. The Martian is just a well-executed film that accomplished everything it set out to accomplish.