Movie Review | The Martian
Movie summary: An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars after his team assume him dead, and must rely on his ingenuity to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. (IMDb)
The first time I watched The Martian on the big screen, I was so caught up with what was going on that I found myself unconsciously leaning forward in my chair in and had to force myself to sit back properly. I then saw it again a week or two later and got so caught up - despite knowing exactly what was going to happen - that I found myself leaning forwards again.
I think it's safe to say that any movie that can do that must be pretty damn good, and I've watched the digital copy of it that I own a countless number of times since. This is one of those movies that I can put on and enjoy whatever mood I'm in thanks to just how damn good it is, with a healthy dose of humour more than balanced out by just how serious a fate Matt Damon's Mark Watney is facing.
Hell, I enjoyed the movie so much that I went out and bought the Kindle copy of the book and thoroughly enjoyed that too - although, and this might be controversial for some - I did enjoy the movie more. The book goes into a bit more depth on the technical side of things, which was fine to read, but you can understand why it was cut from a movie seeking as wide an audience as possible.
Also, there sequences in the book that I felt didn't really add anything in terms of plot or character but existed only to increase tension. Again, I can understand why these moments wouldn't make it into the movie thanks to being relatively superfluous, but the movie has the advantage of images, score and performances that can heighten audience anxiety in their own ways.
To focus more on the movie, I think it goes without saying that The Martian is a gorgeous movie, because that's the minimum you'd expect from director Ridley Scott, who will always make films that look incredible even if they fall down in other areas. The score is great too, even if it can be quite minimalist at times - that's just appropriate for a story about someone marooned on another planet.
The disco soundtrack, courtesy of Watney listening to Commander Lewis' (Jessica Chastain) collection, adds some variety to the mix, even allowing for moments of comedy thanks to Watney not really being a fan of that type of music. I will admit that it did feel like the movie was borrowing a little too heavily from Guardians of the Galaxy at times, but the music picks are good enough that it was never more than a passing thought.
As for the performances, Matt Damon is the star of the show and plays a hyper-intelligent, hyper-competent protagonist to perfection, really making you feel like he is Watney and that his scientific expertise is coming to him as naturally as you'd expect for an astronaut. A lot of actors to maintain a consistent performance when playing such super-smart characters, but Damon nails it.
Some of the credit must go to the screenplay by Drew Goddard, because how Watney alternates between 'sciencing the shit' out of his predicament of being stuck alone on Mars and just blowing off some steam or eventually communicating with others is balanced perfectly; there's never a moment where it feels like 'Science Watney' stops and 'Social Watney' takes over.
The other two locations, back on Earth with NASA and onboard the Earth-bound Ares III, contain what are effectively mini-ensembles and are both packed with amazing actors who are all almost just as good as Damon at portraying smart, capable people who sound and behave like human beings, not actors reading technobabble from a script.
Because there are so many other characters, none of them get the same kind of focus afforded to Watney, but they're all enjoyable nonetheless. It feels like the crew of the Ares III suffer the most from a lack of screen-time, but it's not exactly a criticism of The Martian's cast that they're all still so enjoyable to watch that you're frustrated the movie wasn't longer to give them more to do!
It should also be noted that this movie is quite economical with its plot, as you'd expect from any adaptation that needs to fit a complete story in a movie's running time. There's no antagonist, with Jeff Daniels' Teddy coming the closest and he's just being pragmatic rather than causing any problems, and there's only a mainly-implied romance between two of the Ares III crew.
The focus is entirely on rescuing Mark Watney from Mars and I love The Martian for just how positive it is about humanity and the potential that the human race has when working towards a common goal. It's pro-intelligence, pro-science, pro-teamwork and simply pro-benevolence. Everyone's trying to do the best thing possible, without acting on any desires or greed of their own and it's so refreshing to see.
I honestly feel that this movie is something that should be shown in schools - keeping to the BBFC rating of 12A thanks to some sweary moments from Watney - because it's that damn good. As I said in the beginning of this review, I can watch The Martian while in practically any mood, because I know I'll feel better by the time it finishes - it's definitely up there as one of my favourite movies of all time.
The Martian is a truly great movie and one of my favourites of all time, with its intelligence and positivity something sorely lacking in worlds both fictional and real. It looks amazing; has a great score and soundtrack; and is packed with a wonderful cast giving equally wonderful performances with Matt Damon as the star turn. Not bad for a movie without an antagonist!