As Will Ferrell’s Mugatu would say in Zoolander, “space is so hot right now!” Following the success of Gravity and Interstellar, the exploration of the unseen has become an almost surefire way to make money and also test the limits of science on the big screen. So naturally it is a no-brainier to move forward with The Martian, a film with a mix of the previous two films that works as an optimist celebration of science and space while still striking fear in our greatest horrors of the great beyond.
The Martian is sleuthly directed by Ridley Scott, leaving behind muddled plots and disinterested characters for a more straightforward and energized tale. Written by Drew Goddard, the film has a sharp wit and sense of progress that exudes from the screen and into the minds of the audience viewing. Space is cool again, and The Martian fully embraces this dive into the void that comes with journeying farther than before.
Matt Damon leads the cast as Mark Watney, a botanist who is part of a crew making a trip to Mars. A storm disrupts their mission, forcing them to return to Earth earlier than planned, but at a cost — while trying to make it back to the shuttle, Watney is thrown back and thought to be dead. As the rest of the crew (which includes Jessica Chastain and Michael Pena) heads back to Earth, Watney is stuck on Mars with all of Earth thinking that he perished.
Diving into Mark’s solidarity, the film becomes a poster-child for scientific knowledge and the will to survive against impossible odds. Damon is charming and relaxed in the role that would be perfectly suited for a young Tom Hanks.
Unlike the recent work of Scott, The Martian feels stimulated, with Damon’s Watney giving us the polar opposite of any character in Prometheus. Usually climbing in bed with characters that are dragged down by meaningless characteristics and duties, Scott is saved by Goddard’s script, which adds humor and savviness to a Ridley Scott picture, which has been unheard of for the last decade.
It also succeeds in its accessibility, which far-reaches last year’s Interstellar, which was bogged down in more intermediate details. It is much easier to understand what Watney must accomplish on his journey as he tries to survive by creating a greenhouse for food and a communication array to speak with Earth than anything being done over the two hours and 45 minutes in Christopher Nolan’s space opus.
That’s not the case for The Martian, which moves briskly and has a sense of optimism that was lost in both Gravity and Interstellar. While it is easy to think Watney will never come home from Mars, there is always a propelling factor that reignites the positive energy around the film. This scientific acceleration makes the film fun, but also creates a sense of larger-than-life purpose and attainable abilities over the course of the movie.
The Martian does drag and sometimes forgets that the most compelling part is the man alone on Mars, but it is a fun film, anchored by buoyancy and expedition that made it an enjoyable two-plus hours to spend at the movies. Matt Damon is great, channeling his best Hanks from Cast Away and Apollo 13 impression, with a flair for the more home bred.
Gravity and Interstellar kept you afraid of space, but with The Martian, you are wanting to head back out there and dive further.