As soon as The Martian begins you get a strong feeling that someone is going to die. That feeling only intensifies when Sean Bean walks through the door. The Martian combines brain power, humour, press releases, and unstable American-Chinese relations to do everything within the realm of possibility to bring Matt Damon home. Again. This is the last time, Matt.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is one of six astronauts sent to Mars for an extended trip. After a wicked sand storm hits and threatens to topple their rig, the crew decide to abandon the mission early and get the hell outta Dodge. They nearly miss their chance to leave, however, after Mark gets hit by a rogue satellite dish and thrown into the blinding cloud of dirt. With his communications cut and no sign of vitals, Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) makes the tough call to leave him for dead. What the team failed to calculate, however, is that Mark is not only an astronaut… he’s a botanist. Mark rises from the dust of his red planet and MacGyvers together a base camp complete with air, water, warmth, a few MacBooks, and a mighty fine supply of potatoes. Meanwhile we sit here shaking our heads in disbelief at a single, powerful, lifesaving word: botany. Mark pulls limitless miracles out of Mars’ thin, insufficient atmosphere while the fine folks at NASA bang their heads against their state-of-the-art technology and try to figure out if it would cost more money to bring Mark home or to erect a lavish memorial in his honour.
Given the fact that The Martian is about one guy stranded on a planet with nothing but his own reflection to talk to, this film is packed with some big-name actors: Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña… they just keep popping up. The moment you think you’ve seen the last of the familiar faces playing various breeds of geniuses, Donald Glover pokes his head around the corner with a plan to save them all. And to think, all those great actors in the room and Matt Damon spent most his filming time alone in a box in Jordan.
Even so, these solitary scenes are my favourite part. Mark is undeniably the smartest man on the planet. He sciences his way out of so much grief that we can more or less call him a space wizard. Amidst the brilliant waves of SCIENCE, Mark keeps the positivity rolling with sarcasm, self-deprecating humour, and a suave attempt to redefine Earth’s laws to fit his current surroundings. For a good, long stretch, Mark seems to have everything under control, almost to the point of telling NASA, “I’m good here. Take your time.” That is, until some imbecilic on Earth says the one thing no one else dares to say: “What could possibly go wrong?” Thanks, Director of NASA, we’ll take it from here. One thing’s for sure: Ridley Scott did his homework. How strange it is to have a director who is an expert in both space and the dark ages…
The Martian doesn’t skimp on the visuals, either. We get to see some fabulous zero-gravity shots mixed with stunning panoramas of Jordan. Visually, The Martian sets the stage for all the drama, humour, and terrifying realizations of abandonment which bounce around from day 1 to the final desperate plan. Juxtaposing the red rock and orange sand is a bunch of fancy space tech here and there. Computery, airlock, swish-floom things, etc.
Still, the ingenuity and shocking rate of problem-solving is the most sublime part of The Martian. While I’m still not sure if “Sol 35” is equal to one Mars day or one Earth day, or if humans are much less reliant on oxygen than I originally thought, I do believe the possibility that the rest of the science is sound. Maybe only because Mark believes it. Or because his charisma makes whatever he says sound like Newton’s fourth law. He is, after all, the supreme lord commander, his majesty, and unanimously elected ruler-in-chief of planet Mars.
The Martian may be a little heavy on the Times Square crowd drama, but as for the rest it is a brilliant, unique space thriller/comedy. No movie is fully complete without Jessica Chastain rescuing a spaceman, or without Matt Damon… being rescued. I was wholeheartedly invested in this movie, laughing uncontrollably at the dialogue and hiding behind my eyelids during the sand storms. The Martian is smart, creative, and a 9/10 good time – for everyone off screen.