Tweetable Takeaway: The Martian lefts off with perfect doses of action, tension, humor, and emotional punch. Tweet
Too often, if a movie is set on Mars, it’s likely to be a pretty awful movie. It seems to be guaranteed there are aliens living there. If we’re lucky, Arnold Schwarzenegger is involved. But the latest movie set on Mars, The Martian, forgoes all the extra-terrestrial hooey and gives it to us straight. Just the science, please, Marvin the Martian. And by doing so, in a premise as deceptively simple as a stranded astronaut trying to survive on the planet, The Martian ends up taking the crown as the best movie to feature our red neighbor. The film has all the right doses of suspense, action, humor, and most importantly, emotional heft.
The Martian wastes no time in getting right to business. A team of scientists, including Matt Damon as botanist Mark Watney, collects samples on Mars before a storm rolls in and NASA calls on them to abort. A piece of equipment sends Watney flying, his suit shows no sign of life, and the team reluctantly leaves Mars before their ship tips over. As we soon find out, Watney survived the accident and now has to find a way to survive on a planet not meant for humans, in a habitat only meant to sustain life for 30 or so days.
It’s a premise that’s spectacular, and one that manages to lift Ridley Scott out of the recent slump of not so spectacular movies he’s helmed. This could be due to the pre-existing popular novel by Andy Weir that the movie owes its existence to. The hook is simplicity at its finest. One man has to find a way to survive. We’ve seen movies of survival before, but not too often has it been on a planet millions of miles from Earth. Now, creating a completely faithful adaptation would mean a four-hour movie (or a television miniseries), as opposed to the two hours and twenty minutes that the movie currently holds. Which means The Martian in movie form is able to cull the best moments of suspense, action, and most importantly, humor. The importance of levity is never underestimated in the film, and situations that are immensely dire mean the focused punches of comedic relief hit that much harder. It also helps that the zingers happen to be actually funny, too. One joke throughout the film finds Watney having to listen to whatever his crewmates left behind. Which ends up being a lot of disco and Gloria Estefan.
The Martian also employs setbacks and obstacles to the best degree. Watney has his own set of problems on Mars, and enough could happen for one movie alone watching his attempts to survive. The film goes one step farther than that, allowing also for NASA’s side of things. It’s enough for Watney to consistently get set back, sometimes to worse off than he was before, The Martian allows for plenty of problems back on Earth too. Among them, how to keep Mark Watney alive, how to get food to him, and how to eventually rescue him. All with the entire world watching. Later in the film, a third tier of tension gets tacked on with the rest of Mark Watney’s crew in space aboard the Hermes spacecraft. Switching between Earth, Mars, and Hermes, The Martian has a whole planet’s worth of events to mine from. There are times that one wishes we could see more of Watney on Mars without as much cutting away. When it accomplishes it, the feeling of being there with Watney on Mars is palpable, but it’s less frequent than it might be. One section has a whole chunk of months skipped over. It’s understandable, again, with the film coming in over two hours, but it’s an aspect that’s missed as well.
Along with Gravity, and to a certain extent Interstellar, large-production movies set in space are having a good couple of years. The Martian continues that trend, as well it should. Space is as formidable an opponent as one can find in the world of conflict for protagonists. Add in some meaty tension, well-placed humor, and a strong emotional punch and you’ve got yourself a heckuva movie to watch safely on Earth with its plentiful oxygen and water. The Martian easily lifts off in all those areas and more.
I give The Martian 4.5 Gloria Estefans out of 5
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor