The Martian

Ridley Scott’s most imaginative sci-fi film to date.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,024

martian

20th Century Fox
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
2 hours, 24 minutes
Rated PG-13 (some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity)
Released October 2, 2015
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Drew Goddard
From the book by Andy Weir
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis, and Donald Glover

Nothing can put a hole in your career like the death of a beloved brother. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the kind of direction Scott’s films took after the death of his brother, fellow filmmaker Tony, in August 2012. He immediately went from the sci-fi/creature feature gold of “Prometheus” down to the dumps of “The Counselor”, a film that I never want to see again, that I feel reluctant to call a film, and that still remains one of stupidest, most confusing pictures I’ve ever sat through. His next film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, is so spectacularly dumb that I find myself laughing too hard at the mere mention of it.

“The Martian” is Ridley Scott back in his element. It’s an incredible film that I hate to complain about, but I must anyway: the ending is a bit too implausible. But even that one evident flaw works its advantage, because it’s the sheer implausibility of this film that makes it so damn exciting, and makes the final half and hour the best thing we’ve seen in a movie all year. Hell, the whole film works because its plot is so implausible and yet so interesting. Hollywood loves happy endings, and it works to the advantage of “The Martian”, where the inevitability of a good denouement is matched by its utter unpredictability. Watching an astronaut in space as we did in “Gravity” and “Interstellar”–both great in their own respects, but not nearly this good–is one thing. They’re trained. Even if they’re just in space for the first time, they know space far better than the average human. Watching Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a botanist for NASA, finding himself stranded on an unfamiliar planet with little resources, that’s something entirely different. The way Scott captures it, you’ll be on the edge of your seats with your heart beating at hypersonic speed.

The script is by Drew Goddard. We’re familiar with his humorous approach to science fiction, thanks to “Cloverfield”, “The Cabin in the Woods”, and “World War Z”. However, his witty comedy works better than ever in “The Martian”. This isn’t a comedy per se, but it certainly does not take itself so seriously. That’s some of what makes it so great. We’re watching a movie that tracks a guy dying in space, and yet it’s fueled largely by dialogue–a sardonic brand which seems to lessen the gravity of the situation. Matt Damon’s character fits him like a glove, and the performance he turns in is surprisingly realistic. In fact, he has my vote for the year’s most lovable movie character. His positive attitude, his sarcastic sense of humor, and his methodical application of science make “The Martian” a beautifully genuine experience. You don’t get that combination in the movies, and you only really find it on TV if you’re watching MythBusters. Except “The Martian” is meant purely for entertainment, and it does one hell of a job at that. How many sci-fi movies have you seen that feature disco music not just as a soundtrack but as a primary subject of the film? You might say zero, but I urge you to watch “The Martian” and that will change. Every moment of the movie is a strong realization of how much you love the film. And in the end, when the aptly chosen Gloria Gaynor song “I Will Survive” plays over the credits…well, that just tops it all off.

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