The Martian is that rare bird, a
mainstream movie that’s both intelligent and entertaining. What’s more, it’s
been directed with an unusually light touch by Ridley Scott. Despite its
ambitious nature there isn’t an ounce of pretentiousness in the mix.
Writer-producer Drew Goddard took on the task of adapting Andy Weir’s book,
which is told (in large part) through a series of dispatches from an astronaut.
The screenplay fleshes out that material, adding a supporting cast but retaining
the main character’s voice by having him talk to a video camera in diary
The premise is
simple and straightforward: a team of astronauts gathering data and specimens
on the surface of Mars is forced to abandon the planet when a violent storm
erupts. A flying piece of debris strikes one of them (Matt Damon) and pulls him
away in an impenetrable swirl of dust. His colleagues are forced to conclude
that he is dead. With great reluctance, and under pressure to flee before their
vehicle is destroyed, his commander (Jessica Chastain) gives the order to take
As it happens, Damon isn’t dead;
when he awakens he realizes what has happened and uses his fertile, scientific
mind to figure out how to survive until he can make contact with NASA.
Meanwhile, on Earth, the NASA team, headed by Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel
Ejiofor, try to figure out how they can save their fallen man, given the fact
that it takes months—if not years—to travel to the red planet, not to mention
the time required to build the necessary equipment to do so.
Martian wastes no time with unnecessary exposition: it gets right down to
business. Within minutes, the action is underway and Damon’s character takes
center stage, using his superior intellect and experience as a scientist to
assess his situation and intuit what his colleagues back home will be doing (and
thinking) in order to rescue him.
The film is a tour de force for
Damon, whose innate likability and everyman qualities make him an ideal hero.
What’s more, Goddard has imbued the character with a sense of humor, which is especially
welcome in this setting. Damon isn’t a fool: he realizes he might perish but
uses his willpower and optimism to avert that possibility.
The production design (by Arthur
Max), cinematography (by Dariusz Wolski) and visual effects are a marvel
because they don’t call attention to themselves: we accept them as real because
that’s how they look, from the dramatic surface of Mars and the HAB (or
habitat) that Damon uses as his headquarters to the sleekly modern offices of
NASA back on Earth. Everything about the movie seems organic, deftly supported
by Harry Gregson-Williams’ score and an entertaining array of source music.
The supporting ensemble is equally
strong. Chastain, Daniels, Ejiofor, Michael Peña, Aksel Hennie, Kate Mara,
Sebastian Stan, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, and
Donald Glover make substantial contributions as fellow astronauts and members
of the ground team at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab. Each character is
well-drawn and purposeful in Goddard’s dynamic screenplay. The film is long but
nothing is extraneous. The Martian is
superior entertainment from start to finish.