Sometimes being in similar sounding films can lead people to mistakenly assume that an actor is doing the same role over and over again. Matt Damon had to make a public statement to people to clarify that this current movie he’s in; “The Martian,” has nothing to do with the (at the time) similarly looking 2014 film “Interstellar” he was a part of. Having seen both films and admittedly making the same assumption when I first saw the trailers for Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”; there was a concern I was seeing movie déjà vu. There’s a lot a person can surmise from watching a film’s trailer: its tone, its emotional intensity, its style of filmmaking and even its ending. I usually keep my expectations for every movie considerably low so I can be surprised and face less chances of being disappointed. “The Martian” accomplishes a feat that few movies truly can do and that’s obliterating your expectations to surprisingly wonderful new lengths of entertainment.
Astronaut Marc Watney (Matt Damon) is partaking in a manned mission to Mars with his commander (Jessica Chastain) and crew. During a freak storm, Marc is believed to be killed and his commander and crew leave the planet before their ship is destroyed. Now stranded on an alien planet with dwindling resources, Marc must use all of his brain and will power to make Mars a survivable home for the next few years until his rescue arrives. When his crew learns of his survival through NASA, it becomes a race against time, space and fate as the crew tries to perform an impossible rescue mission; in order to bring themselves and Marc back home alive. Without saying too much, I can definitely tell you that this movie was quite different than what I thought it’d be. This looked like an intense, drama driven survival story that would deliver a grim/gripping lone survivor story ala “Gravity.”
However, unlike both “Gravity” and “Interstellar”; this film was actually VERY emotional and dare I say; light hearted. Both previously mentioned space films relied far too much on space physics and visual effects to cover up the fact their characters were hollow husks that couldn’t spare 10 minutes from their hours’ worth of sophisticated space jargon to explain to us why we should even care about these characters or their missions. “Martian” makes you care; you care about Marc and his documentary narration to the space station cameras allow you to feel like you’re right there with him; struggling…but also laughing and smiling along with each incredible accomplishment. Most of the film is spent watching Marc come up with Sherlock level contraptions and solving equations to make the impossible actually be possible on an alien planet. Each scientific tool and trick Marc uses is meticulously presented and crafted in a way that makes sense (hopefully it’s scientifically accurate too) and engaging to watch unfold. The movie’s nearly 3 hours long and majority of the air time is all focused on Damon and Damon alone, and he easily proves capable of carrying this film all by himself. He has a sense of charm and charisma that surprisingly works well with a character smart enough to grow crops on Mars and grow his own water just by using what was left around for him to tinker with. But what I loved best about this film was its light hearted approach to an otherwise hopeless dilemma. This film is uplifting, it’s challenging but it’s not so seriously sour that you can’t feel a sense of optimism and humor through Marc’s journey.
Overall, “The Martian” has a lot more emotional power to its punch than ever could have expected. I can’t really find a fault or flaw to pick apart because the movie is just a solid, well-acted, well written and well directed space drama that produced far more smiles than chewed off fingernails. It’s not a film I can say warrants a great deal of replay value and while I rarely agree with most movie critics, I can kind of see why so many award nominations are being buzzed about. Ridley Scott and Matt Damon make a sensational successful pair, I was pleasantly surprised how many times I laughed rather than cringed and frankly; it’s much better to experience positive expectations surpassing ones of grim and intense tension anytime if you ask me.