The plot offers no surprises, but The Martian’s realistic space survival story and endearing performance by Matt Damon turn it into an engaging and uplifting tribute to human ingenuity.
During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission.
With the exhausted genre of cli-fi movies, where a bunch of white people survive a whoop ass from nature, producers are now venturing into space for survival drama. There, they don’t need to CGI the destruction of a whole city. As Gravity has already showed us, you don’t need aliens to kill human beings in space, just let the universe do its thing.
The Martian is a realistic space survival story that doesn’t rely on script writing magic. Watney solves each problem step by step with rational plausible solutions. The movie avoids making a patriotic Deus Ex Machina and makes an effort to portray diversity and inclusivity. The smart ass sense of humor adds the needed lighter moments.
As expected from Ridley Scott and a well funded blockbuster, the movie does a spectacular job in showing the struggles of Watney through cinematography and compositions. The aerial shots of Mars shows its beauty and barren landscape. The framing compositions of Watney tells both the privilege and problem of being the Martian – he can freely claim a bunch of firsts on the Red Planet, but that’s also because he is alone.
Matt Damon is able to carry the movie with his every man charisma. The supporting cast does a great job as unintentional foils (with the exception of Kristen Wiig because she has nothing to do here than be there and react) and shows the realities of space exploration – Teddy Sanders has to make sure it’s worth risking funding for the program and doesn’t derail current missions, Vincent Kapoor is piggybacking on the rescue so he can get more Aries missions approved, and Watney’s crewmates’ determination doesn’t magically cancel out the consequences of the rescue on their own. The CNSA (China National Space Administration) makes an appearance, and whether that’s because of the increasing presence of China in Hollywood or not, still enforces the theme of team mankind as they chose to help at the risk of revealing their own classified space program. This is not about Team NASA, Team USA or Team white people. The Martian is about human ingenuity.
While the movie moves on its easy to digest course as a popcorn pleaser with strategically placed but reasonable enough narrative hurdles and triumphs that extend the life of our Martian, I can’t help but wonder what’s about this guy that should make you emotionally invested in his survival.
The movie shows personal details about his crewmates and moments with their families but we don’t know what Mark Watney has got to lose, even a beloved cat. Sure he has parents, but we don’t even get to see one picture while he mopes around staring at a computer screen. Is his box completely empty that he has to rely on Lewis’ disco music?
His survival story is endearing, but the plot offers no surprises at all. The movie spoon feeds the audience in every dialogue. It’s understandable that there will be a lot of explanations here doled out by the characters, but hinting at something that may go wrong just before it does ruins the suspense.
Nonetheless, The Martian proves to be an informative crowd pleaser. It’s a rare blockbuster that makes you smart instead of confused or stupid. Of course the movie takes some liberties with Science but its not hokey or plain Hollywood ridiculous. The movie manages to balance logic with entertainment while highlighting an uplifting message without being mawkish.
Essentially, The Martian is not about one man. It’s the resourcefulness and ingenuity of humans that have made us as a specie, gone this far. More importantly, as Dr Robert Zubrin said in the Guardian, “If Barack Obama’s successor were to commit the nation, in the spring of 2017, with the same kind of courage and determination that JFK did in 1961, we could be on Mars before the end of his or her second term. It’s a question of political will to me. That’s the real positive message of The Martian. It’s saying, “we can do it. If we use our minds, we can take on all these challenges”.
My Rating: 8.5/10
Note: I reviewed this as a stand alone movie, not a book adaptation, which I haven’t read.