During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney 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.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
. Starring: Matt Damon
, Jessica Chastain
, Kristen Wiig
, Jeff Daniels
, Michael Peña
, Sean Bean
, Kate Mara
, Sebastian Stan
, Aksel Hennie
, Chiwetel Ejiofor
, Benedict Wong
, Mackenzie Davis
, Donald Glover
. Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
I read many critics calling "The Martian" formulaic but I think it's a half-empty glass way to look at it. In fact, like many great movies, its plot is driven by two great concepts borrowed from other movies, but put together making a greater concept with a novelty as the cherry on the cake. Basically, "The Martian" is "Apollo 13" and "Cast Away" on Mars, and it's so obvious I just read other reviews mentioning this combo, so I think we're reaching a general consensus here.
Anyway, "The Martian" has the crisis-management and triumph-of-human-brain-over-natural-adversity theme that usually inspire entertaining, pedagogical and inspirational stories, and it has the inevitable 'stranded in a desert island' vibe only this time, in a more exotic landscape, if exotic also means hostile, hellish... and reddish, well you can't get worse than being left alone in Mars, like Mark Watney. It's not the first film set on Mars, so not quite a novelty, but still, the first by Ridley Scott, so in terms of production designs and recreation of an extra-terrestrial setting, we have a director who mastered the Sci-fi genre at a time where half "The Martian" cast was watching 'Sesame Street'.
On that level, "The Martian" is perfect to a documentary-like level.
Now, let's get back to our combo. In "Apollo 13" department, the film delivers exactly what we expect with the whole brainstorming moments, the internal tensions and conflicts within the NASA operators, the ethical dilemmas, the last-minute solutions, the decisions to make fast, and all these moments are served by terrific performances, especially from a trio of great actors Sean Bean, Chiwetel Efigogor and Jeff Daniels (whom I suspect is promised to play many authoritarian figures in the future given how natural bossy charisma he exudes). "The Martian" isn't just a thrilling race against the Martian clock, it's also a great film about management. And that's where my criticism starts; the film should've been an ever better one about self-management.
I think "The Martian" lacked a little something on this aspect. We have a man, who's trapped in a planet, alone, with no one to help him light-years around, and for some reason, there's no real moment where Damon 'feels' alone, starting with the fact that he talks to his audience (in fact, a camera installed in the base, where he can leave information and messages 'for the record') it's the first departure from the usual 'desert island' silent discoveries, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it was quite a pleasant surprise, not to have the character immediately desperate or scared, here's a guy who's trained to resist the pressure whether in a vessel or a stressful situation. Besides, he strikes as a very optimistic nature, capable to throw a few hilarious one-liners and it's like the situation is critical enough not to inject some extra level of pathos, and that's fine... at first.
Not only it's fine, but it's also realistic. Mark has the oxygen (available thanks to the oxygenator), but he's got to find out how to make food and water and water to make food, so there's no time to waste. And that's why the beginning is so promising in "The Martian", it doesn't waste time, as if it was governed by the very urgency of the situation. Noland in "Cast Away" was alone, but he had food and water, the real struggle was to cope with loneliness and accept his nihilistic future. Watney has no alternative, he does something or he dies, it's pure survival instinct. Do or do not, there's no try. And then, we see him, working for his life, growing plants, eating, drinking, exploring the planet, step by step, making first rudimentary contacts with the NASA, and then being able to communicate. But after one hour, he 'chats' with his NASA colleagues and, he's just like the child trapped in a well.
My personal regret is that we never get a true emotional impression on his loneliness, it's physical, but the film is so in a rush to get to the rescue part that it doesn't allow itself at least ten or fifteen minutes for the main character. And I mean that because he was a fascinating, well-acted and intriguing one, so they could afford a little extra time for moments where basically 'nothing' happens, and where we try to find out what's going up in his mind. I understand Watney is supposed to be a sort of wisecracking guy, who's not probably the type of man to directly express his feelings, it's part of his nature, but that's what would have made a real breakdown, an emotionally rewarding moment. I waited desperately to see him reach a breaking point, to throw the potatoes all over the place, to cry of pain, hunger, exhaustion, but we never get that moment and it's a pity.
It's a pity because I think it's precisely for this reason some perceived the film as formulaic, because it didn't take more chances with Damon. I don't mean to 'intellectualize' the film that much, it's a matter of emotions more than analysis, "The Martian" had the entertainment valued so locked up that it could allow us to get deeper in the character, a sort of character study, without cheap emotional moments, just the nice amount. Not that it prevented Damon from getting his Oscar nomination, I guess he showed a few signs of vulnerability here and there, behind his restrained facade, but I wish there could be more "Oscar-baity" moments, and be a real threat to Di Caprio this year, who had a flashier 'survivor' role in "The Revenant".
But again, the designs were impeccable, the landscapes breath-taking, the special effects spectacular (once again, old-school Ridley Scott) and the acting good with a honorable mention to Jessica Chastain I forgot to mention. "The Martian" is great entertainment, I wish it was just less about the rescue than the rescued.
Review by ElMaruecan82 from the Internet Movie Database.