Matt Damon plays Mark Watney in “The Martian,” an astronaut who is part of an expedition on Mars which includes a couple of other researchers. The film opens with the exploration of the red planet going relatively smoothly, however, when a storm comes along, things go south.
During an escape to return to Earth, all of the astronauts make it to the ship to get back home, except for Mark, who gets stranded by himself on the deserted world. It’s now up to Mark to figure out a way to survive and up to NASA to find a way to get him back home.
Science is the main focus of “The Martian,” as Damon’s character must use practically all of his expertise among various technical fields to stay alive through the many hardships on the planet. When the film is focused on Mark, it’s almost exclusively about what he’s coming up with to survive.
It makes for some compelling cinema as the audience is left to wonder what he’s going to come up with next through various points in the film. This is also true for the scenes on Earth where the officials at NASA are trying to figure out how to A: rescue Mark and B: keep the classified info from the public.
From that angle, “The Martian” works very well. It’s truly fascinating at points watching Damon’s character come up with different types of solutions. With that said, though, one of the weaknesses of the film is that it is a bit too focused on the scientific aspects that the emotional notes sometimes feel rather lacking.
It’s not to say that there were no emotional moments, but the fact is there were very few. So many times when things went wrong, Damon’s character would basically figure out something right away. There wasn’t as much tension at some points because of how quickly problems would be solved without exploring deep senses of despair with the main character.
Despite that, though, as a whole, “The Martian” is still a strong film for the most part and the talented, experienced cast is one of the reasons. Damon, for example, is really good on screen and is able to put the movie on his back for the scenes that he is by himself. His performance is backed up by some very witty and humorous dialogue which really makes his character likable.
Performers such as Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor, all deliver solid work and help to craft a realistic setting. These performances helped put the audience right in the middle of a crisis at NASA and it felt real and believable which helped make the film more engaging.
Like previous Ridley Scott films that have included science fiction, there was a lot of attention to detail put into both the space crafts, laboratories and the alien world itself. The scenes taking place on Mars don’t look artificial at all. It’s apparent that Scott and the rest of the film crew put a lot of work into creating a believable Mars setting and it goes a long way toward making the film enjoyable.
Overall, while “The Martian” did somewhat lack a bit in emotion, it’s still Scott’s best film since 2007’s “American Gangster.” The acting is solid across the board, the aspects of scientific ingenuity is interesting to watch and the climax of the film is thoroughly entertaining. Low 4 out of 5.