It’s been quite a while since director Ridley Scott brought a film so rich and entertaining to the big screen and it’s a thrill to see Scott bring audiences what is one of the more riveting tales of a castaway trying to survive in the wilderness. Adapted from the novel, Scott delivers a truly compelling drama about lone astronaut Mark Watney left stranded on Mars, who spends his time trying to survive and build his own ecosystem in a harsh alien world incapable of supporting life. What’s most exceptional about “The Martian,” is that it tells the tale of a very motivated hero who spends all of his time trying to solve his problems and very little of it moping around and fearing death.
When Watney awakens on the harsh sands of Mars after being left behind by his crew, he’s left on the alien world and is far from home. Convinced he’s died, NASA and the crew he worked alongside struggle to move on certain he met his untimely demise in the vicious storm that cut their mission short. Watney decides to gather his bearings and ventures back to his old work station, attempting to salvage what resources he has left in order to survive. Through his quest, he hopes to contact Earth to assure he’s alive and perhaps garner a rescue team that may not be able to help him until a little under a decade. With his declaration “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option, I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this,” Watney is a character who instantly earns a cheering section for his willingness to fight until his last breath. As a protagonist he endures, implementing pretty much every scientific skill he’s ever acquired at his disposal.
He even keeps his morale up when the land works against him making his survival seem ever more pressing even in the face of danger. Watney is a man of science who doesn’t leave everything up to fate and or luck. He makes his own luck, builds his own world, and sustains his own health, allowing his friends back on Earth to scramble and find a way to rescue him before he starves to death. “The Martian” switches back and forth in narrative from Mars to Earth, where Watney is able to contact NASA, prompting them to figure out how to rescue him and do so as quickly as possible. Scott keeps “The Martian” absolutely thick with tension but also brisk in pacing, centering on many characters working hard to reverse what they thought was an absolute failure. Watney’s mission is very engrossing as Scott keeps his stakes high, while also maintaining its light hearted tone. The notion that Watney could at any time die, or starve to death make his mission to live ever more harrowing and tense, defining the laughs the film elicits as somewhat bittersweet.
Mars is a land that also doubles as a presence consistently working against whatever Mark Watney deals up to allow him to see another day. Watney has to think outside the box constantly, and works hard to keep from sinking in to depression or pure terror. With Damon’s down to Earth performance and affable personality, he’s one of the more fascinating protagonists ever conceived. With Drew Goddard’s excellent screenplay, Watney doesn’t particularly come off as heroic, so much as someone simply using what they have to keep themselves alive. Damon conveys the every man attitude quite brilliantly, taking us through the motions of loneliness, isolation, and stir craziness, especially when submitted to limited distractions and diversions from his reality. With an excellent performance by Matt Damon as well as a top notch ensemble including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, “The Martian” is a fantastic survival drama that’s charming and exciting without ever losing sight of its tale of humanity, and science.