I never read the book by Andy Weir and I didn’t know anything about this movie but I’m a fan of Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner) so I was hesitantly excited about this. It’s been compared to Castaway often, which I really enjoyed, but was this movie able to exceed expectations?
Matt Damon stars as astronaut Mark Watney, who is on Mars with a crew of scientists doing soil samples. In the opening scene, a storm hits and the crew is forced to leave Mars and return to Earth. However, this storm hits Watney with debris and the crew thinks he is dead. He’s not, however, and must now find a way to tell Earth that he’s alive and manage to survive until a trip can reach him again.
Playing his crew, we have Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie. Back on Earth, we have a team of scientists and administrators trying to get him home, including Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Kristen Wiig, and Benedict Wong.
This movie was absolutely incredible.
Matt Damon is on-screen by himself for probably 70% of the runtime, with the other 30% going to the crew and NASA folks back on Earth. He carries the movie completely and delivers a great performance. It’d be easy to have this movie be incredibly serious, with the stakes as they are, but instead Damon’s Watney is optimistic and lighthearted, cracking jokes and finding the best in things. Surprisingly, this movie is generally really funny. I was laughing for most of it, which I did not expect.
While the supporting cast is really extensive for the amount of screentime they get, most of these performances do a great job at highlighting Watney’s struggles. Jessica Chastain delivers a stellar performance as the commander that had to choose to leave Watney behind, believing he was dead. On Earth, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor both stand out as well.
It wouldn’t matter if Damon’s performance was great, if the Mars scenes weren’t pulled off well. Ridley Scott is a very visual director and the way Mars is portrayed is absolutely beautiful and terrifying. It is vast and empty and yet vibrant. The best visual effects are ones you don’t notice and I never once thought of Damon acting on a soundstage because Mars felt completely and fully realized.
I mentioned that the movie was hilarious but there are also moments of absolute fear, as the worst case scenario seems to happen on multiple occasions. These moments are chilling, suspenseful, and beautifully shot. They reminded me of the best parts of Gravity, which is quite a compliment.
I also really appreciated the science. It seemed realistic (enough) to plausibly work, yet still was understandable to most of the audience. The film did a great job of explaining how his botany projects worked or why certain situations were life-endangering, without becoming bogged down in exposition.
I don’t have any complaints, really. Most people should enjoy this movie, it was simultaneously hilarious and suspenseful, and Damon delivers one of the best performances of his career.
The Martian surprised me with how good it was. At its core, it’s a survival drama about one man left alone on Mars who has to find ways to create food, contact NASA, and eventually escape the planet. While this could’ve been slow and dramatic, Damon’s character is instead optimistic, lively, and a blast to watch. When the action kicks in, though, this film delivers some incredible action scenes that remind you of how dangerous this planet is. I laughed throughout most of the movie, yet never forgot the constant threat that loomed over him. The supporting cast is full of incredible talent and while they don’t get too much to do, they deliver enough to remind you of the humanity rooting for Damon’s Mark Watney throughout this adventure. Hands down one of the best films of 2015 so far.