Movie review: Marooned on Mars
– There have been plenty of films where people have been lost or cut off from the world. Tom Hanks was stuck on an Island. Robert Redford was stuck on a sailboat. Ang Lee made a film about a boy trapped with a Tiger on a life raft. And all of them made the most of their survival experience.
The same is true of “The Martian,” a new film from Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon and based on the popular novel from Andy Weir. In it, Damon’s Mars explorer is left for dead on the red planet. Except he’s not dead — just stuck. What makes this different from other movies about harrowing survival is the setting. When you’re on an island or stuck in the middle of the ocean, there’s at least a chance a rescue crew might stumble upon you. When you’re trapped on Mars, you’re years away from rescue on a hostile planet not designed to sustain human life, and that’s a problem.
“The Martian” focuses on the crew of Ares III, a manned mission to marks. Mark Watney (Damon) is a botanist on the crew of six. When a severe storm threatens to wreck
their ride home, the mission commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), orders the crew to abandon their mission early. As they try to make it to their ship, satellite debris hits Watney and he flies off into the storm.
Believing Watney is dead, not receiving any vital signs from his suit, Commander Lewis reluctantly abandons the search and the crew takes off just before the storm damages their ship. The other five are safe and headed home.
Back on Earth, NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Mars Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) deliver the news that the mission was abandoned, the crew is headed home and astronaut Mark Watney is dead. It launches a time of national mourning.
Except, Mark Watney isn’t dead. He wakes up hours later, battered and bruised but alive. After making it back to the temporary shelter, he begins to work through the problem of how to stay alive until help can arrive.
After a satellite tech discovers Watney is still alive and kicking, NASA springs into action hatching a rescue plan and trying to re-establish contact with their stranded astronaut, and Watney sets out to ensure he stays alive until he can be rescued.
We’ve hit that time of year when we’re getting to films that will be contenders in awards season. “The Martian” is one of those films, and deservedly so. It’s got a great cast, a fascinating story and a tight script, and Scott — no stranger to great films — puts it all together in a fascinating and engrossing package.
“The Martian” is about the best film I’ve seen so far in 2015. It’s engaging, has great performances and characters and delivers a fascinating story. Though it’s nearly two and a half hours, it keeps you hooked the whole time, drawing a variety of emotional responses throughout its running time.
A lot of that is thanks to Damon, who is great in the lead role. While this is a film that has a lot of characters and an ensemble cast — unlike a film like “Cast Away” — Damon still has to carry a bulk of the story on his own. It’s about Watney’s survival, and Damon makes you care for the character and invest in his journey.
Damon is able to help make that work through his video journals, kept as a way of keeping Watney sane and focused during his struggle and solitude on Mars. Those moments provide some of the levity and intrigue to his struggle to survive. But the film is blessed with a number of fine performances. Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie do fine work as Watney’s fellow crew members, while Daniels, Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristin Wiig, Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover are part of the crew on earth working to find a solution.
The script from Drew Goddard packs a lot into the film’s running time and is a great blend of drama, action and comedy. There are some amusing moments, powerful moments and some great moments of tension. One could quibble slightly with the ending, but overall “The Martian” is a great story beautifully told.
This is a great piece of writing, directing, acting and storytelling. It’s a movie that hooks you and takes you on an incredible journey, one that will likely earn it several nominations later this fall.
“The Martian” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some strong language, injury images and brief nudity.
Four stars out of four.