Overview: When a brutal storm hits Mars during a NASA mission, a group of astronauts are forced to abandon the planet and leave behind one of their own when he is presumed dead. 20th Century Fox; 2015; PG-13; 141 Minutes.
Mars Attacks: The free publicity The Martian has garnered this week due to the well-timed discovery of water on Mars is sure to have Ridley Scott and crew even more gleeful over the release of The Martian, the film based on the debut novel by Andy Weir. Fans of Weir’s book may have been skeptical over the idea of Scott’s position in the director’s chair for this adaptation after last year’s release of the exuberant trainwreck Exodus: Gods and Kings. Fortunately, Scott has taken a much more restrained approach to The Martian, managing to maintain the simplicity and humanity within a story that takes place through time and space, which is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself.
One Giant Step: Where The Martian succeeds most is in its balance. Balance between a film simultaneously about the entire world and the journey of one human being. Balance between action and characterization. Balance between humor and drama. Balance between science fiction and realism. Very few films attempt and even fewer accomplish the feat of combining so many elements. Never once does The Martian feel like it’s trying to cram too much in or give the impression that it’s struggling to find an identity, instead taking each step assuredly, keeping its footing while crossing into new territory. As Mark Watney would say, “In your face Neil Armstrong.”
Mark Watney, Space Pirate: The biggest reason The Martian is able to confidently stride among genres so seamlessly is Matt Damon’s performance as Mark Watney, the one who was left behind. The subtlety of his demeanor allows his emotional outbursts to pack more of a punch, never translating as dramatic or disingenuous. His line delivery is pitch perfect, creating comic relief that feels appropriate and unforced. In the moments in which Mark gives in to his own fears and vulnerability, there’s a necessary sense of relief given by the communication that although he’s an astronaut managing to survive on another planet, he’s just as scared as any of us would be.
Overall: Although advertised as an epic space adventure, The Martian is really about problem solving, survival, and the value of human life. The true marvel is the sense of intimacy this film creates between the viewer and Watney’s journey while still portraying the reach and the universal impact of his story. The Martian is the unique kind of blockbuster that you can marvel at in awe while still maintaining an emotional connection. It truly does have it all.