Matt Damon battles cabin fever and disco tunes, on Mars, in director Ridley Scott’s latest foray into outer space. Adapted from the immensely popular 2011 book of the same name, The Martian is a strange but ultimately entertaining film that will keep your glued to the edge of your seat, make you laugh and probably never want to work for NASA in any capacity, ever. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney. He’s a genius botanist/astronaut marooned on Mars after a massive sand storm separates him from his crew. Mark’s intellect, indomitable spirit and dark sense of humor are all he has to survive on the desolate red planet. He needs to figure out a way to:
- communicate with NASA that he’s still alive
- help facilitate his own rescue
- not starve to death or go insane
or as he says in the trailer, “I’m going to have science the shit out this.”
It takes a certain type of charm to carry a film like The Martian, but Damon pulls it off masterfully. His portrayal of Mark Watney feels like an extension of his uber charismatic public persona we all know and love. He’s smart, funny and with surveillance cameras and video logs running constantly, Mark knows that his actions will be remembered in posterity, and remains calm and steadfast throughout his ordeal. Well, he does get a little weird. Tom Hanks started chatting with a volleyball in Cast Away, Matt Damon channels the Fonz and becomes a space pirate. Either way, his performance is the perfect blend of comedy and drama, and goes from Good Will Hunting swagger to Courage Under Fire vulnerability in a snap.
So Damon and the rest of the film’s massive supporting cast, are all killer. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain are especially noteworthy. It was great to see her calling shots in space as the Hermes’ commanding officer and not stuck in the cornfields like she was in Interstellar. You remember that flick? Where Matt Damon played a different marooned astronaut who went hella crazy? The Martian actually combines the best elements of Hollywood’s recent space exploration films, Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 Oscar juggernaut, Gravity, and Christopher Nolan’s maligned, evacuate the galaxy space epic, mentioned earlier. The Martian has pristine visual effects like Gravity, but with complex characters and an uplifting, three cheers for the human race type message like Interstellar.
With Ridley Scott behind the helm, The Martian‘s gorgeous visual aesthetic should come as no surprise. The film’s levity and generally positive ambiance is the real shocker. Scott mastered the sci-fi genre more than thirty years ago with the one-two punch of Alien and Blade Runner. Since then, Scott has made his bones on bleak and gritty cinematic epics. His movies usually look great, feel unnerving and sear some kind of twisted visual into our collective consciousness, like chestbursting Xenomorphs or Russel Crowe wrestling tigers. Despite his long and storied career…Scott’s recent output has been a bit shaky. Every project after 2007’s American Gangster has received lukewarm reviews at best [warning: I will fight anyone who bashes Prometheus], proving that even the masters of cinema aren’t infallible. For every Gladiator or Black Hawk Down, there’s been a Robin Hood or Exodus: Gods and Kings, chipping away at Scott’s legacy. Although one of the most lighthearted films of his career, The Martian proves that even at 77 years old, Scott can still knock one out of the park and leave audiences in awe.
The tagline for Scott’s breakthrough film Alien was:
In space, no one can hear you scream.
36 years later and everyone can hear Matt Damon’s awesome comedic timing in The Martian loud and clear.