Main Cast: Matt Damon, Chiwetal Ejiofor
Director: Ridley Scott
You can almost smell the red dust. That’s how convincing The Martian is. Now movies are supposed to take you to another place. It’s part of their magic. But it’s rare for a movie to take you so far from home and manage to make it all seem so real. Based on the surprise bestselling 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir, the movie is a thrilling adventure in the burgeoning nerd-as-hero genre that succeeds at every data point.
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is pretty much screwed. Just a few days into the third manned mission to Mars, a freak windstorm descends on the team and Watney is left for dead on the planet’s surface as the rest of crew hurriedly aborts the mission and heads for home. And while he’s pleased to have avoided death, he’s chagrined to realize that he has instantly become the loneliest man in the universe, millions of miles from home. Worse yet, no one even knows he’s there.
But Watney is no ordinary guy. He’s a botanist with the determination to survive, even if he has to wait four years for the next scheduled visit from Earth. With a MacGyver-like imagination, he manages to cobble together a survival strategy based on the generous use of duct tape and his indomitable horticultural savvy.
It’s a suspenseful adventure story of the highest order and director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner) pulls it off without a hitch. The screenplay by Drew Goddard (World War Z, The Cabin in the Woods) vividly captures the spirit of the book with suspense, humor and plenty of disco music.
But it’s Matt Damon in the title role who makes the whole thing work. Spending most of the film alone, he controls every nuance from tenacity to despair with his usual charisma, delivering plenty of nerd-friendly humor along the way. Tough. Thoughtful. Funny. He somehow manages to take it even further, capturing the stranded man’s passion as he takes in the quiet isolation and grandeur of his new home planet. Damon is ably aided by a stellar supporting cast – Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetal Ejiofor most notably – that never drops the ball.
But beyond the great performances, engaging screenplay and expert direction, it’s the visuals that make this so much more than just a standard space adventure movie. Featuring incredibly realistic views of the Martian landscape, the movie goes out of its way to show off the breathtaking scenery of the red planet. To great effect, director Ridley frequently pauses for a moment between crises to allow the audience to take a deep breath and simply enjoy the majestic view, aided by the skilled cinematography of Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean).
Full of suspense and daring, The Martian is a riveting 141 minutes that manages to maintain a genuine sense of plausibility, giving us a credible taste of what real-life missions to Mars will be like in the not too distant future. Preserving the nerdy enthusiasm and humor of the original novel, it’s sure to thrill audiences of all types, even those without pocket protectors.