Have you ever had a busy day filled with noise and various people screaming and ordering you around? Have you ever closed your eyes and just pictured being alone; just you and your thoughts? Maybe you’ll escape to a quiet room and just read for a few hours. Maybe on a good day, you’ll actually get some sleep. Now imagine if that small fantasy, that moment of escape, was a reality. What if your room or that place your mind likes to drift off to was a planet? Not just any planet, imagine if it was Mars and the only person on it was just one human: you.
For Mark Watney, this is his reality and he just wants something that many people take for granted, to come home where it’s chaotic and noisy; to come home to the familiar. More accurately, he just wants to be back on Earth and the only people who can save him are the people who left him up there to die… accidentally.
Based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian starts off like every other space movie, a manned mission to Mars to collect data; a rather simple mission, right? For Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), his journey is anything but simple. During NASA’s Ares III mission headed by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) to the friendly red planet, a storm suddenly sweeps the area, separating Mark from the rest of the crew. Just when things look like everything will work out for the better, a snapped piece of metal knocks him unconscious. He is buried under a sea of dirt and with zero-visibility, that piece of metal forever changes the course of his life and world history.
Thinking Watney died in the storm, the team heads back to Earth but there’s just one small problem: Watney is very much alive.
Stranded 140 million miles away from home, Watney awakes to discover he has enough provisions to last only a couple of months, which at first sounds like a lot until we are told by NASA bigwigs (Jeff Daniel and Chiwetel Ejiofor) that it’ll take four years before a rescue crew will be able to get to him.
This is the point where most people would start to lose hope, succumb to the situation, and completely give up. However, Watney is not most people; he’s a botanist and will “science the hell out of this situation,” come hell or high non-water. His goal is simple: turn a lifeless planet into a modern day Garden of Eden filled with running water and edible food to last him just long enough so he can survive when the rescue team finally reaches him.
Meanwhile, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “The Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return, because clearly the hashtag of #BringHimHome will work as effectively as the Care Bears “we care” slogan.
The Martian is a story of sheer will, the beauty of science, and the countless efforts to bring one man home, woven together into an Oscar contender.
There are no words to fully express how wonderfully crafted the movie is, everything from the visual effects to the intensity of each scene helps to create what can only be called a masterpiece. While it’s easy to compare The Martian to Apollo 13, Castaway and Gravity, it’s so much more. It’s a movie that makes you feel what it’s like to be all alone, and thanks Damon’s acting, realistic science, and a wonderfully crafted script, this movie becomes a feast for all of your senses.
Unlike Castaway’s volleyball, Watney has a camera and a collection of Donna Summer records to keep him from completely going insane (which is enough to make someone go insane). Using this high-tech version of Wilson, it’s here where Damon truly shines as he invests his soul into these confessional monologues which are about everything from science to music to becoming a space pirate in ways that only a few actors could. He delivers heart and punch lines in each video, while single-handedly creating his tale of survival into someone human and intimate.
While Damon handles the role with a sense of gravitas, he is blessed with a wonderful cast who each bring their own charisma and weight to their role. Chastain, who has starred in her share of space movies, carries the weight of knowing that it was her decision that was responsible for leaving Watney stranded. We watch her character transforms from a leader to someone who is inclusive, involving the entire team with making an important decision. She, along with her team, is caring and sympathetic, sacrificing everything for just one shot to right their wrong.
Back at NASA, scientists are plugging away, finding and failing at bringing Watney home through a number of experiments and missions. There’s a struggle of power within the science community as they try to find the quickest way of reaching Mars while upholding their public image; but behind closed doors, people and ideas come to blows.
Even though this is a science movie, it never keeps the average person out of the loop. The writing does an incredible job at explaining things while never babying the viewer. As a result, the audience feels like part of the team instead of an outsider in need of a dictionary.
Despite all the charm, non-stop action, and depth of The Martian, the movie is not without any faults. There are far too many characters that stand around and do nothing. Unlike Donald Glover’s Rich Purnell whose minor role has something to contribute to the recuse mission, many actors including Kristen Wiig, as part of the NASA home team who are despondent as they stare at a computer screen watching Watney’s movements. Then there is an issue with the empty unresolved ending that cheats the audience who vested their time and energy in this spectacular journey.
Despite these minor imperfections, The Martian is the kind of movie that everyone should see. It’s rare to find a blockbuster with enough heart, soul and scientific brains to match its Hollywood budget. The Martian is a sci-fi movie that actually puts science back in the spotlight; it leaves the audience on the edge of their seat, begging for more.