DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
CAST: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan
RATING: PG-13 (some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.)
An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars after his team assume him dead, and must rely on his ingenuity to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
By Matt Greene
Ridley Scott has made some of the most enduring classics of all time in his 40-year career (Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner). On the other hand, he has also managed to totally wet the bed in many of his productions, especially in recent years (The Counselor, Robin Hood). This big-hit-or-big-miss track record keeps him surprisingly vital for a 77-year-old man, with his successes often directly relating to their source material. With his most recent, The Martian, an adaptation of a hugely popular novel, he uses that original story to create a beautiful and spirited stranded-planet adventure that rivals anything Scott has done in decades.
The survival tale of a NASA astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars begs comparison to recent space disaster films Gravity and Interstellar. While Martian is comparable to those movies high-points in visuals and sheer thrills, it surpasses both in sheer personality. Even though much of Scott’s galactic epic focuses on hard science, botany theories, and public relations problems, it far exceeds its inherent dryness with a lively and sharply funny script, and a wonderfully believable turn by Damon. His brainy and silly performance is backed by a deep sense of fear and awe, as he reconciles and even revels in his newfound heroism while never forgetting its colossal danger.
This epic tale is told surprisingly economically, never reaching too far past its focal points and keeping us completely engaged. Martian’s parable of ingenuity and the will to survive is a smart and fully entertaining science fiction outing that reminds us what great big movies can be: funny, uplifting, transporting, and exhilarating.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
By Cole Schneider
If “The Martian” isn’t great, it’s certainly solid. It’s well acted, funnier than expected, and oddly inspiring. Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a cocksure botanist stranded on Mars after his crew left him thinking he was dead. In many respects his time alone on Mars gives the film more of a “Cast Away” feel than that of a sci-fi space opera, but traces of “Apollo 13” and “Gravity” are present too. While Tom Hanks had a volleyball to to talk to in “Cast Away” , here Matt Damon has a video log and the structure is less imposing than it sounds. Just about everything on Mars is perfect thanks to Damon’s ability to carry a film, which isn’t offered to him as often as most Hollywood superstars.
Unfortunately the scenes on Earth aren’t as successful. Much of the ensemble cast comes to play, but they are mostly playing characters that ring true only as cardboard cutouts and have unnecessary subplots develop between them. Still, the focus never strays too far from Mars.
What makes “The Martian” unique and interesting is its science. I’m not a botanist, I don’t work for NASA and I don’t pretend to know what is or isn’t plausible in terms of the science in the film, but the fact that the science doesn’t seem farfetched (with one notable exception late in the film) makes its thesis ring true. As Damon patiently problem-solves over and over we grow to understand not the science but the importance of the science. What “Rocky” does to inspire 15 year olds to hit the gym, “The Martian” may well do to inspire them to hit the books.
3.5 out of 5 Stars