THE MARTIAN Review
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Adventure, Drama
So here’s the rub: when writing a movie about one guy alone on Mars, viewers don’t need act breaks of the same man talking into a GoPro like in some B-rate edition of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction should always be reason for hype, and even if the man let some of his viewers down with his last trip to the stars in 2012’s PROMETHEUS, his intrinsic ability to craft sizable epics is worth the cost of admission alone, even if he isn’t delivering a new ALIEN or BLADE RUNNER. Putting on a one-man show of Matt Damon on Mars sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, the inherent problem with THE MARTIAN is that it might as well have also been titled exactly that: Matt Damon on Mars.
Another Day, Another Damon to Rescue
The film is a bloated, tiresome experience that borrows so heavily from its space-drama forefathers that it ultimately fails on too many levels to be rewarding sci-fi entertainment. Much like Christopher Nolan’s foray into the depths of space, THE MARTIAN profits heavily from a dedication to scientific accuracy but suffers from shoddy writing. There is something intrinsically commendable about crafting a space film that intends to show a believable near future, because it can only instill inspiration in the audience that views it. Nonetheless, what must be viewed objectively is how effectively THE MARTIAN presents its narrative.
Pictured: Staff Writer for THE MARTIAN
Where THE MARTIAN stumbles most notably is within its execution of the greater narrative. Injecting the plot with a lethal dose of the Hollywood treatment, THE MARTIAN feels like a film that can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a space drama a la APOLLO 13, or a space caper akin to INTERSTELLAR, resulting in a Spielberg-ian rescue mission film that stretches the suspension of disbelief just a little too far.
Filled to the brim with dialogue-heavy comedy, THE MARTIAN is an odd viewing experience that allows its two hours and twenty minutes to go by rather quickly. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a good thing, because one can’t get over the sinking feeling that the jokes feel awkwardly out of place. After all, Matt Damon is supposed to be miserably alone on Mars, not Woody Allen in solitary confinement. Although it can hold its own aesthetically, there is hardly any visual storytelling in place. Consequently, Ridley Scott has somehow crafted a film that is so expository that it manages to make an adventure on Mars virtually impossible to tell without ham-fisted dialogue.
Hey HAL! Airplane food, am I right?
Matt Damon is extremely charming in the lead role, but his character is so vastly underwritten that he has no choice but to just play the role as “Matt Damon the botanist”, and lets face it, that’s probably the least exciting character bio that’s gone through the studio system in recent memory. The resulting problem is that Damon has no visible arc or cathartic moment. He promptly decides not to let himself die on Mars, gets to work, and does everything in his power to get himself saved. How he changes as an individual is basically non-existent. The supporting cast does a decent job at keeping the film afloat. Jessica Chastain and the rest of the spaceship crew play their roles with the primary intent of presenting the spectacle of space, and Jeff Daniels effectively, albeit unrealistically, portrays the Frank Underwood of NASA.
“You are entitled to nothing Mr. Damon, go build your own damn spaceship”
The two sore thumbs of the film are Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover, both of whom are not only irrelevant to the story’s overall structure, but serve no purpose other than adding annoying additional narrative beats, presenting some haphazard comedy in the process. In fact, what slowly becomes the most obnoxious element of THE MARTIAN’s dramatic execution is that characters speak to each other with absolutely no respect for governmental authority. And although the nerdy comedic rhetoric works in making for funny non-sequitors, the interplay between the actual characters on Earth causes the entire film to feel like a bunch of famous actors going off-script in an attempt to turn a space-drama into a special night at Groundlings.
“Ill be right by your side till 3005, hold up” proved to be more a complex lyric to pen than anticipated
However, not all is wasted: what should be lauded is the extent to which the film goes to present scientific accuracy. Although it never captures the ambition and inspiring sense of scale as Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, it manages to show a Bear Grylls special on Mars, something that is fantastically intriguing for anyone who would like to know what planetary colonization would look like. This is not to say that INTERSTELLAR is the superior film; both Scott’s and Nolan’s adventures suffer from similar fatal flaws, and yet both profit from the general sense of awe that they can instill in a viewer. Despite everything, THE MARTIAN still has its cool factor on its side, and that carries it a lot further than one would expect. There is an undeniable charm to watching Matt Damon problem-solve his way through Mars like some extra-terrestrial MacGyver, but what the film sorely lacks is anything original outside of the immediate “Bruh I gotta plant some ‘taters on Mars” dilemma. The climactic finale attempts to emulate Cuaron’s GRAVITY but never looks half as impressive, making the depth of space look like something that can be maneuvered as easily as Wall-E does when he flies around using a fire extinguisher, and the rescue tactic is nothing other than APOLLO 13 with a container of added stakes.
If only NASA would have had to do a rescue mission before…
There’s so little fresh content outside of the basic premise of THE MARTIAN that it feels painfully been-there-done-that. The film starts with Matt Damon cracking wise with his fellow crewmates, shortly after becoming stranded and forgotten. It makes one wonder how much more effective THE MARTIAN would have been if Matt Damon wouldn’t have said a single word during his extended period alone, amplifying the grueling solitude of being hundreds of thousands of miles from home, reminiscent of J.C Chandor’s excellent sea-adventure ALL IS LOST. It’s apparent that Scott has an undying adoration for space travel, and the extent of scientific verité manifests itself as the film’s strongest asset, but much like a space suit, one tear can take you out in seconds.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend