The Martian is the story of botanist/astronaut Mark Watney who, on a manned mission to Mars, has (mistakenly) been left for dead by his crew in the confusion of a sudden ferocious storm. He is then forced to fight for his survival using whatever resources he has been left with in hopes that somebody will return for him. The story is based on the best-selling novel written by Andy Weir and does a phenomenal job in bringing the idea of space exploration into the modern day, meaning the viewer is made to feel as though this is something that could happen tomorrow. Ridley Scott has ventured into space before, with Alien and Prometheus, but The Martian stands out from his previous movies (and other comparable space exploration titles like Interstellar) for both good and bad reasons.
The storm that takes out Watney knocks him unconscious and he rouses to find that he is all alone one the red planet, and what’s worse is that he has been impaled by a rogue antenna. Rather than panic, he staples his stomach shut and quickly assesses the situation, realizing that he has enough food to last him a little over a month. So his mission is clear: he needs to find a way to cultivate the arid Mars landscape.
The narrative is provided by a clever video-journal that Watney keeps, updating the viewer as to his calculations, conclusions, thoughts, feelings and hatred of disco music (which is a running joke through the movie). As insightful as these videos are, they were an opportunity to make moments more significant and wrought with emotion, however Watney stays a little too calm and collected. Instead, he displays a weird, robotic mild frustration throughout the film. There is no overwhelming panic. There is no momentous fear or dread. This has a tendency to bring you out of the flick as you run through gamut of emotions that would be racing through your own mind if you were in a similar situation.
Watney’s solitary existence is broken up by the juxtaposed events transpiring back on Earth, from the panicked discovery of his survival by a keen-eyed NASA technician to how PR deal with and deliver the news to the world. All of the interactions happening on Earth only prove to be a distraction from the main story. You want to see Matt Damon overcoming all odds to endure his hardships on the red ball of dirt and not Kristen Wiig struggling to come up with the correct words to use in her worldwide press release, or even Childish Gambino pretending to understand quantum physics.
Watney’s colleagues, played by Jessica Chastain (who also appeared earlier this year in Interstellar), Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie are all portraying some kind of stereotype and it’s just frustrating to watch. From the stern and commanding ship leader who’s personality has as much variety as Watney’s dwindling food supply, to the wisecracking crewman who asks: “Uhh, can you repeat that in plain English?” it begs the question as to how that particular crew member made it onto a manned mission to Mars and speaks volumes about how Watney came to be stranded on the isolated planet: incompetent colleagues.
Another thing worth mentioning is how the movie kind of ruins the suspenseful undertone by drowning each scene with Watney’s cringeworthy one-liners that were added to glean cheap laughs from the audience. When he notes that he needs to ‘science the shit’ out of a situation, the audience laughs and the tension dies. When he’s facing the daunting complication of having to drive for weeks in an electric car that needs to be recharged every 38 minutes, he turns to the camera and makes a comment about disco music that again, makes the audience laugh and kills any trace of a serious moment. This disappoints as the book does a great job in balancing out Watney’s overall positive outlook with the grave severity of his situation. The film fails to do so as it tips more towards the comical. This isn’t a terrible thing, but it’s something you should know before purchasing your ticket.
Should you go and see this movie? Well, it depends. If your idea of action is a slow burning, non-suspenseful, highly comedic 2-hour romp, then absolutely. If you’re not already sold on the idea from reading other glowing reviews, you should consider the inclusion of redundant scenes of NASA employees, Watney’s lack of true emotion, the odd soundtrack and even some poorly executed visual effects (where the actors ‘floating’ in zero gravity were struggling to convey it), the summation of which results in a movie that falls short of expectations. I’m a space enthusiast who instantly loves anything that deals with the subject matter and I struggled to enjoy it. Maybe that’s saying something. Just wait until it drops on Netflix.
Have you seen The Martian? What did you think of it?