“I don't want to come off as arrogant here, but I'm the greatest botanist on this planet.”
Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian, is an intelligently crafted science fiction drama that takes on the form of a problem-solving movie in a very nerdy way. It is not an easy movie to sell considering it is very talkative and there is a lot of science involved, but Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel is quite captivating. There is no denying that the true star of the film is Matt Damon who basically manages to put on a one-man show in Mars and deliver a very entertaining performance in a similar way to what Tom Hanks did in Castaway. Although this film does give much more screen time to the characters back home as they try to communicate and find a way to bring their astronaut back, but it is Damon who really stands out. The film has been nominated for the Golden Globes for best comedy and although I don’t agree with that designation it is Damon who delivers the comedy through his charismatic performance as he faces each new struggle in quite a light and positive way. The movie is a drama more than anything else and it carefully studies every scenario of what could go wrong in Mars and presents interesting solutions to those problems. Ultimately that is what makes this film stand out from other space films which Ridley himself has directed. This is a different kind of movie, a survival film with brains that respects its audience and doesn’t try to include any fantastical elements for entertainment purposes (not that I have a problem with it since I was a huge fan of Prometheus, but this is a completely different genre).
Matt Damon gets all the credit for his charismatic performance as Mark Watney, the astronaut who is abandoned in Mars after a storm breaks out and his crew is forced to leave him behind, but the supporting cast is quite impressive as well. Jessica Chastain is Melissa Lewis, the astronaut in charge of the mission who has to make the fatal decision. The rest of the crew members are Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Chis Beck (Sebastian Stan), and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie). They don’t get much screen time, but they are each given their moment and it is enough to know what motivates their decisions. I would’ve enjoyed to spend more time with these characters considering the cast is wonderful, but Matt Damon doesn’t even give us time to miss them. The focus is on his character and he delivers every line to perfection. We are instantly drawn to his character and we identify with his struggle to survive. Back home at NASA headquarters we are also introduced to several characters who are doing the best they can to bring Mark home. Jeff Daniels is Teddy Sanders, the man responsible for any decision taken as the NASA director, Kristen Wiig is Annie Montrose, the director of Media Relations who is trying to save face in the midst of the situation, Sean Bean is Mitch Henderson, the flight director who is in contact with Watney’s crew as they are returning home, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Vincent Kapoor, the mission director. It’s surprising how Ridley Scott manages to include all these characters in the film and give them a unique personality as they all join forces to come up with the best solution. Daniels plays a very similar character to who he plays in The Newsroom, but if you only know him from Dumb and Dumber than you are in for a treat.
When I first heard about this movie I was a bit worried about the effects that recent space films like Interstellar (which also starred Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain), Prometheus (which was directed by Ridley Scott), or Gravity might have on The Martian considering the space theme. To my surprise, the film stands out from the very opening scene as it takes a totally different approach and focuses more on Mark’s survival skills and his wit. He is a very charismatic character who easily pulls you in to his conflict and allows you to participate in the problem-solution process. This isn’t about special effects, it is about intelligent people getting together to come up with a solution.