“The Martian” could best be described as a modern Robinson Crusoe on Mars. After a mission to Mars gets cut short after 18 days due to a sandstorm, the crew of the Ares III mission must make a perilous exit from the Red Planet. Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut and botanist for the mission, is left behind by the crew after getting rocked by debris and presumed dead. When he wakes up with a broken antennae stuck in his gut, he soon realizes that he is marooned on this lifeless planet for four more years until the next mission arrives to save him.
Matt Damon plays a much more likeable character as Watney than he did in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic “Interstellar,” where his character faces a similar predicament – only that time on a frozen planet. Using his cunning wit and botany skills to live off potatoes grown using his own feces, Watney has so much optimism that sometimes it is hard to believe. His main focus is survival through out, as he states in the very beginning, “I’m not gonna die here.” Oh, the foreshadowing.
The blatant foreshadowing was distracting at times, as the movie is set up on a typical plot arc where things go from bad to worse. After the initial shock, things are going great for Watney (as great as they can be when you’re alone on a planet 50 million miles away from Earth) until his hub explodes and he loses all his precious potatoes. It felt like the movie teetered back and forth between a few positive things taking place and then the dreaded events that Murphy’s Law implies. At one point after a supposed break through for the team at NASA that is trying to bring him back, an employee says, “And that’s assuming that nothing goes wrong.” And there you have it – in the next sequence we watch as Matt Damon’s dung potatoes explode into dust.
The camera work that documents his isolation is visually intriguing and leaves the audience with a strong sense of anxiety as it displays his oxygen levels and other data. It cuts back and forth from different surveillance cameras in the hub and gives you a video diary of Watney’s isolation. During these videos, Damon deliver’s his most comedic lines. There is also some underlying humor between NASA employees as we watch them squirm to get Watney home while also avoiding a media sandstorm of their own.
Overall, it was a more lighthearted film than expected with its subtle humor and touching final sequences of the astronauts at home with their families after years of space travel. You always root for the main character to make it home, and I found myself getting emotional when Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) embraces Watney after rescuing him from the dreaded planet.
Was it scientifically accurate? Not entirely, but it seemed to be trying really hard. It felt realistic until he launched himself in a pod that had no windows or top to it, or when he “Iron Manned” his way back to the space craft during his rescue mission. It was a movie that wasn’t sure if it was a sci-fi drama or a thriller, but that’s okay. It was entertaining and enjoyable through out with some memorable performances from the talented ensemble cast.