The Martian – Review

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Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiefor
Based upon the book of the same title written by: Andy Weir
Adapted for the screen by: Drew Goddard
Directed by: Ridley Scott
IMDb Score: 8.1 (Rated #209 in the Top 250 movies of all time by IMDb)
Metacritic Score: 80
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Matt Damon) and Best Picture.

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

Man, critics seem to like the “lost by yourself in the elements” movies. Castaway made an indeliable dent in 2000, while recent films like All is Lost and Gravity seem to use these types of situations for different types of movies. Enter The Martian: 2 plus hours where Matt Damon is stranded on Mars.

That is basically the plot, but there’s also more to it. How does The Martian fare?

Mark Watney (Damon), a botanist on the space exploration unit Ares III, was presumed dead after a violent sandstorm in Mars. Now, he has to survive on the planet until he’s able to be rescued.

 

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In a reductive sense, The Martian is the better parts of Castaway mixed with Apollo 13. Break The Martian down to its essence and you have a movie that is simply a character study that is more fluffy and fun than it is perilous and dangerous.

Whether that is good or bad depends on what you’re looking for: fans of Castaway, a film that blended a fantastic performance by Tom Hanks and a terrible sense of loneliness and unknown, will find that it doesn’t compare thematically to The Martian.

This is because the film never makes you feel the plight of Watney, essentially just like Hanks’ character in Castaway. This is not a deterrent of the movie, but an unexpected bi-product of how the plot flows.

For example: Castaway makes you feel the plight of it’s character by divorcing itself from the outside world with the main character. You never, ever see anything but that character and the island which gives the film a more emotional heft.

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The Martian, however, goes back and forth from Watney to NASA and his original team. For that reason alone, you never get to feel what Watney is going through in a danger sense. You never feel he really is in danger or his life is on the line. 

Instead, the movie goes the Apollo 13 route. The film is more about how NASA is going to get Watney back than it is about Watney’s survival.

This worked aptly in Apollo 13 due to its tense sense of quiet and this incredible feeling of not knowing what the next steps are. This film essential turned a manual into an incredible movie that, to this day, is still one of the best space films ever made.

The Martian goes half Apollo 13 and half PR Management film, which is pretty good. The feel of the teams trying their best to save this one guy is an entertaining and interesting watch. 

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Yet, these parts don’t mesh together well. The transitions to Watney and NASA isn’t jarring, but it isn’t seamlessly done either. The film never eases itself into a narrative flow that it’s comfortable with: ping-ponging back and forth trying to create a holistic beat that doesn’t come up throughout the film.

Surprisingly, this doesn’t make the film unwatchable, even at it’s near 2 hour, thirty minute run time. This is mainly due to Damon’s fantastic performance carrying the film.

Damon’s comedic tone is spot-on, especially in its more darkly comic moments. This is made very surprising since Damon’s record of note with comedic performances is spotty (his highlight is Dogma, of which he’s second banana to Ben Affleck).

Damon creates a character that is human and confident, while not being too confident to seem unrealistically cocky in a dire situation. He nails key scenes in the film that show the character’s charm and depth, just by interacting with the environment and talking to a computer screen.

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The rest of the supporting cast is servicable; they only serve to make the plot flow. This does slow down the NASA parts, especially when you can get a good turn from Sean Bean or Jeff Daniels in their characters, but they are only there just to make the movie go.

With that, the movie rests on the shoulders of Matt Damon, of which he aptly takes it and runs with the film. The film is just average with a plot flow problem, but any scene with Damon is pure gold.

Damon puts in his best performance since The Talented Mr. Ripley and True Grit. He shows new shades in his already robust range, carrying this movie to a great watch for anyone who even remotely likes him.

Otherwise, you can’t science the shit out of a plot that is merely average. You can only hope to dress it nice.

3.5/5 – Damon’s performance shoulders what would be an average film into an entertaining one.

The Wiz Says #53

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