Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left stranded on Mars after he is presumed dead due to an accident while an emergency evacuation was occurring. Left with little food, the equipment on the base and his own ingenuity, Mark has to find a way to survive on Mars until a return mission not due for another three years, while NASA and his crew scramble to rescue him.
What elevates ‘The Martian’ from any other movie in its ‘survivalist’ subgenre is the incredibly dynamic and carefully planned script. The methods Watney takes to save himself feel very plausible, even if some events or ideas make your eyes nearly go out of your skull in wonderment of how the hell he survived them. Thankfully most of this is solid, and perfectly balanced by the fact that there’s a sense of levity layered throughout. The movie is very, very funny, allowing it to feel more human than if it was utterly grim and dispirited, and helping us connect to our lead.
Balancing this script is a constant switching between Earth, Mars and the ship with Watney’s crew. This also allows every actor to get their moment to shine, and the cast in this is so good, not a single member falters. They’re all insanely well written and performed. Particular props goes to Chiwetel Ejiofor, as this movie further proves the man needs to be in more films.
The shining light is Matt Damon, who creates a character not only endearing in his wit, but also admirable in his survival skills and resourcefulness. Despite the humour, there are moments that allow the weight of what is going on to bare down, and Damon absolutely excels in them. It’s too early to tell, but the high brows of the Academy are hopefully going higher.
The film isn’t without its flaws. The opening goes by so fast, it’s hard to feel any connection Watney and his crew may have. While that doesn’t kill the believability in any way, it would have helped to cement the importance of the crew’s bond, especially as they spend a good chunk of the start not onscreen. There are also some moments that feel convenient and written in to solve plotting issues. An example is Donald Glover’s character, and while he does a great job at being a bit-too-realistic lab geek, he has the grand total of two short scenes before he barges into the movie and gives us our denouement plan, and then leaves until one brief moment until the end. He’s the nerd MacGuffin. A NerdGuffin, if you will.
‘The Martian’ truly is an impressive feat in cinema. Beautifully shot, making Mars look tranquil and wondrous as well as terrifying, it’s also held up with an excellent script, a whip smart sense of humour, one of the best ensemble casts of the year, a cleverly imbued soundtrack and an accessibility that makes this a crowd pleaser and a sci-fi fan pleaser. One not to miss.