A man stranded and alone, desperate to get home with only his wits to protect him. It is a scenario that has been a part of fiction throughout the ages from Odysseus to Robinson Crusoe to “Cast Away.”
But at least those guys still had little creature comforts like oxygen and temperatures that rose above sub-zero.
“The Martian” puts a man in the most extreme of environments, the surface of Mars, and leaves him abandoned with little hope of survival. It kind of sounds like a downer. But lo and behold the result is one of the most uplifting, exciting, and, yes, funniest movies of the year.
Matt Damon plays NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a likable, good-humored guy who is separated from his crew and presumed dead when a violent storm puts an end to their mission.
With limited resources and no way to contact Earth, Watney stays calm and uses the powers of science, engineering, and ingenuity to stay alive.
This is one of those classic movie-star roles and Damon delivers with one of the best performances of his career. He gets to be funny (Damon’s comedy chops are underappreciated) and charming, but at the same time brings enough depth to the character he never lets us forget the gravity (sorry, space pun, had to do it) of the situation.
But while Damon is compelling enough here to watch all by his lonesome for two hours, “The Martian” has an absolutely stellar supporting cast rounding out the movie. His fellow crewmates are made up of the likes of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie.
Back on Earth, there are some heavy hitters at NASA where we see all the parts of the agency come together from the chief bureaucrat (Jeff Daniels), lead scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor), head of Mission Control (Sean Bean), and public relations manager (Kristen Wiig).
There is great energy among the supporting cast and not a flat performance among the bunch.
“The Martian” was directed by Ridley Scott, a man who knows a thing or two about taking us into space, but things don’t usually end up this lighthearted and inspiring. It’s nice to see Scott showing us he can deliver a spectacular and entertaining film without the heavy hand.
He gets a big assist from the screenplay written by Drew Goddard and lifted quite faithfully from the best-selling novel by Andy Weir. The film’s good-natured tone is on the page and Scott lets it play out on an eye-popping backdrop.
Scott smartly makes Mars a character while resisting the temptation to overplay it with repeated wide-angled shots. Mars is an endless desert with an almost dignified beauty and Scott makes it feel like a very real place.
Beyond being a great piece of entertainment, “The Martian” is a glorious celebration of science. There’s nothing physically superhuman about Watney or any of the other characters in this movie. They all demonstrate greatness between the ears. It’s not just a triumph of the human spirit, but of the human intellect, as well.
It’s been a long time since our science-fiction was actually this positive as opposed to simply another shade of dystopia.
Any way you look at it, “The Martian” is a great movie, to the point, we might still be talking about it come Oscar season.
“The Martian” is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.