The Martian Review
Ridley Scott is a frustrating filmmaker at times.
I have loved a number of his films, such as "Gladiator," "American Gangster," "Black Hawk Down," "Kingdom of Heaven," "Blade Runner," and "Matchstick Men." I think both "Prometheus" and "Body of Lies" are bigger triumphs than the rest of the world would say. Scott has several good movies in his career, but at the same time, there seem like there are just as many duds. I am not talking mediocre movies that could have been better, or mixed bags. He is capable of really stinking up the screen at times. "The Counselor," "Exodus: Gods and Kings," "Legend," "Robin Hood," and "G.I. Jane" are all experiences I wish I never had, and those are just naming a few. How can such a talented filmmaker be so up and down all the time?
Well, I am glad that in 2015, Scott stuck the landing. "The Martian" is a massive achievement, a movie you'll be hearing about come award time I'm sure. It is raw, passionate filmmaking brought to life by a remarkable cast and crew throwing everything he have at the screen. But what's most shocking about "The Martian" is how anti-Hollywood it is in its storytelling and coming from a guy like Ridley Scott, that's a minor miracle.
The story may seem simple, an astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left for dead on Mars when an unexpected storm hits where his crew is researching. He survives the storm, and now he must stay alive on Mars for four years until a rescue mission can be planned and executed by NASA. All the while NASA scrambles obsessively to bring him home sooner. Sounds like "Gravity" meets "Castaway," I know. But trust me when I say "The Martian" offers so much more than mere survival. To just say "The Martian" is culmination of the parts of other movies is taking away all the credit the movie deserves. If you know Ridley's work, I am sure your shocked, but I would have never guessed a movie like this would have come from his watchful eye, and if Scott plans to make more movies similar to "The Martian" then I will be overly-happy.
The thing that sticks out the most about "The Martian" is that there is very little Hollywood in the movie. "The Martian" is anything but ordinary, and that's a great thing. There is so much science on display that you will feel smarter once you leave the theater. But trust me, "The Martian" isn't some hollow science lesson, Scott uses science and realism to create the tension and drama for the film. I understand that realism in this day in age automatically means dark, but "The Martian" is so overwhelmingly optimistic that its hard not to give yourself over to it. The film takes its time setting itself up. It takes its time with NASA as they figure out a way to rescue Mark. It takes its time with Mark as he problem-solves how to stay alive on a lifeless planet. It also takes it time with the crew who left him for dead, and how they risk their lives and their jobs to aide the rescue of Mark. It could have been really easy to give Mark a family and pull at our heartstrings as they worry about his survival. But "The Martian" isn't really interested in that. "The Martian" is more interested in getting into the bone marrow of surviving on a planet, its interested in the ideas of rescuing someone who hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth. "The Martian" proves that the fun of science can be just that...fun. And using it to create the entertainment and excitement of an entire movie is even more fun.
I could spend another thousand or so words detailing the merits of the cast, but I will try to keep it as short at possible. This movie packed to brim with wonderful actors, actors who clearly know how good of a script they have and they run with it. This is some of the very best work by Matt Damon, and he could very well get an Oscar nod for this. But there is also equally outstanding work done by Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Mackenzie Davis, Kate Mara, Michael Pena and Sean Bean. Yes, the cast is that loaded, and I could go on and on, but I don't need to do that. You all probably know how good these actors are, and I just want you to know that they all shine. Even in the smallest of scenarios. Donald Glover appears in only a few scenes, and in that limited screen time he creates an entire character full of emotion. Sometimes that can be challenge, and Glover makes it look incredibly easy. Sometimes, you can be drawn to a cast that is having fun and trying harder than Hell to please their audience, and that is certainly on display here.
But most of all, "The Martian" won me over because its a movie that represents the very best of us. Its a movie that shows just how versatile, resilient and courageous we all are. Its a movie that shows us that deep down, our best qualities are our humanistic qualities and our qualities that make us smart. While I may love horror movies, or action movies or sometimes I may take the darker ride, I equally love a wildly optimistic film and "The Martian" positively bathes in it. But, on the other hand, creating an entire drama for two and half hours with scientific research is pretty damn impressive too. "The Martian" offers so much and its rich in the celebration of film-making.
FINAL GRADE: A