Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofer
Is the lost-in-space adventure about to become the new Hollywood "it" topic? After the success of 2013's Gravity, it may seem too soon to completely herald a thriller set outside of Earth's orbit involving a lone spaceman seemingly trapped with no way home. In Ridley Scott's film adaptation of Andy Weir's bestselling novel, The Martian, our lost hero is displayed with a certain sarcasm that both elevates and dramatically lessens the sense of adventure. Instead of offering a similar, edge-of-your-seat experience as the aforementioned Gravity, The Martian plays as more of an entertaining blockbuster than the awards season darling it's hoping to be.
Matt Damon stars as botanist Mark Watney. In the midst of manning a space mission with a diverse team of scientists and space engineers, Watney finds himself alone, stranded on Mars. What at first presents itself as a death wish, Watney soon turns into a "sciences the shit out of it" situation on Mars. His fellow space walkers are under the impression that Watney was killed during a crazy storm upon the Red Planet. Due to some clever technological magic, he makes contact with NASA and a PR firestorm ensues back home. The fight to bring Watney back to Earth becomes the story of the century worldwide as both NASA and his fellow spacemen must discover how to save him while he, basically, works furiously to save himself.
The plot is surprisingly simple and draws memories of other, similar stranded alone stories. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, the immediate focus is just as much about surviving the day as it is preparing for the future. With calculations in hand, Watney discovers he must do some quick work to expand his food inventory. Enter Science. Weir's book is littered with equations and scientific explorations. In the film, Scott decides to devote a seemingly healthy amount of time to Matt Damon voiceovers, explaining certain life-dependent algorithms, but the quirks Watney displays in book form do not seem to translate. Instead, Damon's comedic attempts distract from the immediacy of the plight at hand.
Some may feel that the humor makes for a better story, but it, in turn, allows the film to not take itself serious enough. The stakes always seem greater when reality plays a subtle role in each and every fiber of a story like this. At a point, there should be some sense of urgency or crazed mind-numbing fear. We barely see either.
The reactions of the cast of characters around Watney add to the defibrillating experience. Jeff Daniels seems as if he's stepped out of one Aaron Sorkin-laced screenplay into another. Kristen Wiig is charming as always, but isn't given enough content on which to chew. Her role could have easily gone to someone lesser known and we would have never noticed. Same goes for Jessica Chastain. The multiple Oscar-nominee seems to just sit around during most of her scenes, blindly displaying emotion after emotion. Why do we care? We don't know! The film's vision is perhaps larger than the film itself. At the end of the day, it's more of an Armageddon than a 2001: A Space Odyssey.
For what it's worth, The Martian is entertaining. There are moments that are thrilling. And the visuals of Mars are equally breathtaking and isolating. Seeing the film in 3D is even more of a treat. While this isn't going to be written down as a groundbreaking epic, it is deserving of great box office numbers. It's smarter than it has to be and more wide-reaching than it should be.
Runtime: 141 minutes