I wouldn’t say that I don’t like Ridley Scott. I think he’s simply lost his way a little bit since his science fiction movies like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Prometheus (2012) is a little underrated in my opinion but it still doesn’t hold a candle to these two classic. Scott has gone on to direct grand scale blockbusters like Gladiator (2002) with breath taking scope; but he has also directed some films that are CGI-centric and suffer from bloated plots that suffer little development. However with The Martian (2015), it was nice to see him take a step back and bring things back down to Earth… Or in this case, Mars.
Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney who is a botanist on steroids and also a team member of a crew of astronauts who are on a manned mission to Mars, led by their commander, Melissa Lewis (played by Jessica Chastain). The mission goes south and the team ends up leaving Watney on the red planet after he is blindsided by debris during a storm and it seemingly kills him… Except it doesn’t.
When Watney wakes up alone on Mars, this is the real intro to our protagonist. He’s trying to figure out what happened and how he’s alive just as we are. Eventually he comes to the realization that he’s at least four years away from another manned mission to Mars coming to rescue him and he only has enough rations to last about a month and change. Not to mention he can’t grow plants on a planet that can’t grow anything in general. This is definitely a new spin on “Man vs. Nature” and man’s fight to survive. Watney soon gets to work, deciding, “If i’m going to die here, I’m going to die trying to survive.”
Just looking at Matt Damon’s previous roles in movies to refresh myself, this is definitely one of his better movies in a while and it reminded me that Matt Damon is a really REALLY good actor. In that introduction scene I was just talking about, it’s just him on Mars, alone, reacting to the nothingness of it, and I thought to myself, “I’m about to love Matt Damon in this movie,” and I do. He carries every scene he’s in, which is every scene in the movie. I loved his character, I loved that he was an everyday man who’s likable and we can root for – the definition of a protagonist. He thinks to himself, “I’m gonna die here,” and then decides, “Actually, I’m not, let’s get to work,” and he starts to approach each obstacle at a time and taking it literally day by day.
I gotta hand it to Ridley Scott, as well, for actually making Mars aesthetically pleasing to look at. I didn’t think this movie would have these shots of horizons and mountains because it seems like Mars would be a desolate place; and yet Scott manages to make it look like more than just a massive desert, I found that very interesting in this movie.
Damon’s Watney isn’t the only person I loved in this movie, though, I really enjoyed the rest of the crew including Chastain, Kate Mara, and Michael Peña. We see that despite barely being together for the movie, this crew has a relationship with Watney and cares for him. They want to help Watney get back along with the rest of the team over at NASA, consisting of (Get ready for this) Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, and Sean Bean. Hell, even Donald Glover and Sebastian Stan show up in this movie – I was caught totally off guard. The characters and the dialogue also brought this humor to the movie, which was nice because a subject like your best friend being stranded on Mars can be bleak, but the interactions with these people and their support of one another makes it a very positive and uplifting movie, actually. The public knowing of this effort to get Watney home and how the media being involved brings the entire world together to support this one man and support life itself, really moved me – especially in times today where the only thing on the media is depressing.
The Martian is a rhythmically sound take on man’s will to live and further boasts the acting prowess of not only Matt Damon, but the entire cast in general. I’m glad to see Ridley Scott take a step back and bring his film back down to something small like a guy trying to survive – it’s very personal and I think this is where Scott can really thrive.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Great
It’s literally Castaway (2000) meets Apollo 13 (1995) on Mars with Matt Damon instead of Tom Hanks. It’s beautifully shot, the acting is sublime, and I can say it’s certainly one of Ridley Scott’s finest attempts and definitely one of the best films of the year.
PS The science is scary accurate in this movie. It’s not like Interstellar (2014) where the characters just use big words to make everything seem like it makes sense on the surface. Characters break down the science so a common person such as myself can fully understand it and because of that it helps drive the narrative and keeps audiences invested. Take notes, Nolan.
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