'The Martian' Movie Review: Ridley Scott, Matt Damon Bring 'A' Game to Space Film
For the past three years Hollywood has been obsessed with releasing a space movie with a mission gone awry. Two years ago we saw Alfonso Cuaron's gripping and spiritual film "Gravity" and last year Christopher Nolan brought audiences to unfamiliar galaxies in his philosophical "Interstellar." This year Ridley Scott adds "The Martian," an entertaining and well-crafted survival drama with an excellent performance by Matt Damon.
The film tells the story of an astronaut, Matthew Watney (Matt Damon) who is left on Mars and presumed dead. However, Watney survives and must find means of keeping himself alive and finding ways to communicate with NASA.
Many people will compare this film to "Interstellar" in its use of images and the fact that Damon plays a character stranded on a planet in both films. However, "The Martian" does not have the thematic scope of "Interstellar." And then there will be the other side that compares it to "Gravity" in that the first half hour is essentially a one person show and that it is a survival tale. However, "The Martian" never has that sense of danger that Cuaron's movie has.
What Scott's film adds is levity to the proceeding. While the opening of the film is a bit gruesome as Watney must stitch an injury together, the rest of the movie is filled with jokes and gags from Watney's foul mouth. He continuously jokes about Captain Lewis' music -- which was left on Mars -- nd how he can't stand disco.
He also jokes about the fact that he is able to create food on Mars out his excrement and how he is essentially become the greatest astronaut in the world. When he runs out of ketchup, Watney keeps it light and when the mission from earth to save him goes haywire, he makes fun of the rations he has to eat.
It is fascinating to see the journey that Watney has to go through and the many concoctions he makes throughout Mars. His journey however, is supplemented by a very entertaining team on earth.
When NASA finds out he is alive a number of specialists must face against the head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels). While is apparent where the film is headed, it is hilarious to see the U.S. team up with China for this rescue mission and also enjoyable to see the various conversations Watney has with those on Earth. For example, when they first have communication with Watney, he asks the team on earth if his crew who are still stuck in space know about him surviving. When the team says no, Watney's response is not seen but is later referred to. Sander's responses to the press are one word and it creates an awkward and dismissive environment.
Overall, the film, however, is about Damon as he brings his comic timing to the proceedings. However, one of the most poignant moments in the film is when his food supplies is destroyed. In this scene as he freezes, the actor really shows his dramatic strengths and one senses his character's weakness. His physical transformation is also seen towards the end as Watney is no longer the strong and muscular character and instead he is lean and decrepit.
The rest of the cast is led by Jessica Chastain's tough Melissa Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor's suave Vincent Kapoor and Jeff Daniels' stern Teddy Sanders.
Kate Mara's Beth Johanssen and Sebastian Stan's Chris Beck have a romantic fling hinted at in many scenes in the film. While they don't get quite enough screen time, their romance is a nice touch and one that audiences will surely root for. Aksel Hennie's Alex Vogel also create a good presence while Kristen Wiig adds her comic timing. Michael Pena also gives comic touches to the film while Sean Penn's screen presence is refreshing.
The score by Harry Gregson-Williams gives sweeping and epic touch with souring melodies and rhythmic propulsion that adds intensity and dynamism to each scene. The rest of the music is disco and it adds energy and movement especially in the montage sequences. The production design by Arthur Max really brings audiences into the world and gives Mars credibility.
Overall this is a solid movie that was conceived to entertain and leave audiences with smiles and a positive vive. For those looking for something deeper, "Gravity" and "Interstellar" will likely be better suited. However, it is great to have Ridley Scott back at the top of his directorial powers.