The Martian (2015) by The Critical Movie Critics

Movie Review: The Martian (2015)

It isn’t often that the landscape of a motion picture becomes as integral as the acting, writing or direction, but in the newest Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”) outer space adventure, The Martian, the planet’s crimson hues, frozen nights and horrifying sand/dust storms bring the story of an explorer stranded there with little help of survival to full life. This is in no small part due to the work of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” as well as the upcoming “The Walk”) and company. We often feel the plight of the victim right in the pit of our stomachs.

Even the origins of this film are interesting in and of itself. It began as a novel by computer software engineer Andy Weir, but no publishing company seemed interested until he began releasing parts of it on the Internet. Soon Crown Publishing came calling and the book became a bestseller. Now 20th Century Fox is bringing out the film, starring Matt Damon (“Interstellar”), Jessica Chastain (Academy Award-nominated for “Zero Dark Thirty”) and Jeff Daniels (the horrible “Dumb and Dumber To”) and judging by early box office numbers, the movie is one of the must-sees as Hollywood officially kicks off its award season.

Here, a freak (but all too regular) storm seems to have killed botanist Mark Watney (Damon) on the surface of Mars. Believing him deceased and under NASA orders to abort the mission, his crew, led by Cmdr. Melissa Lewis (Chastain) blasts off leaving him there. Of course, as one can guess, Watney is very much alive as he was knocked unconscious during the massive Martian gale. After his shock of being injured and abandoned wears off, however, he figures he has enough food and water for less than a year on the red planet. “I’ve got to ‘science’ the shit out of this,” he intones to himself and, as a botanist, he finds a way to grow potatoes in soil that seems to be inhospitable.

Through clear-thinking problem solving and a little knowledge of chemistry, he even finds a way to produce enough water for him and the crop to survive. Still, he needs to be able to communicate with Earth or the whole point is moot.

Realizing that an original Pathfinder communication device from 1997 is buried near the next mission’s landing site still exists, he uses the rover to move the satellite system back to his hab (geek speak for habitat). Meanwhile, NASA, led by Teddy Sanders (Daniels), has officially declared Watney dead and sent him off with the proper honors back home. It comes as quite a shock then when everyone realizes he is still alive.

This is especially true of his crew, Lewis, Rick Martinez (Michael Peña, “Ant-Man”), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara, “Fantastic Four”), Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie, “Hercules”) and Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), who volunteer to postpone their trip home in an effort to return and rescue their comrade. Like the 1995 classic space film, “Apollo 13,” it’s the people behind the scenes who come up with the information and figure out the complex mathematics to bring Watney home. This time, it’s a group of Chinese scientists who aid NASA engineers such as Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean, “Jupiter Ascending”), Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”), Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis, “That Awkward Moment”) and Rich Purnell (Donald Glover, “The Lazarus Effect”), among others. Call it “Revenge of the Nerds,” if you like, but it shows the day is not always saved by the fighters; sometimes the thinkers get their day in the sun, as well.

Weir told reporters he wanted the book and consequently the movie to be as scientifically accurate as possible. Thus, questions such as how much energy would a Mars rover need to cover the great distances Watney must drive needed answers. And as he found the answers, he also created new problems for his astronaut to surmount. His stranded astronaut has little angst or other motivations, here. Watney simply pushes forward, putting crises aside and figuring out just how to survive. All in an environment that is barren and unforgiving (we see this as he tries to repair a hole in the hab with plastic covering and duct tape; and then sits in fear as a wild Martian wind tries to rip it apart. Even on the brink of rescue, nothing is easy and miscalculations, as well as just plain dumb bad luck doom that enterprise.

Scott, who flopped with the visually-stunning, but soulless “Prometheus,” nonetheless transformed science fiction cinema with “Blade Runner” and “Alien.” He downplays the high drama (and otherworldly monsters and other threats) and allows Damon to realize the enormity of his plight; the extreme dread that will automatically flow from the vast loneliness of the landscape. With brief exceptions, that is how he plays the character. It’s one which is layered and complicated, but very matter-of-fact and could well provide the actor with his third acting Oscar nomination. As for the overall work, The Martian, like 2013’s “Gravity,” may be one of the smartest picture you will see all year, but it may also be one of the most thrilling and exciting two-plus hours you will spend in the multi-plex.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
5 Star Rating: Fantastic


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The Critical Movie Critics

I have been a movie fan for most of my life and a film critic since 1986 (my first published review was for "Platoon"). Since that time I have written for several news and entertainment publications in California, Utah and Idaho. Big fan of the Academy Awards - but wish it would go back to the five-minute dinner it was in May, 1929. A former member of the San Diego Film Critics Society and current co-host of "The Movie Guys," each Sunday afternoon on KOGO AM 600 in San Diego with Kevin Finnerty.

'Movie Review: The Martian (2015)' have 16 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 4, 2015 @ 10:15 pm Monostat1

    Good movie. Better book.

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 4, 2015 @ 10:23 pm Lee Crouch

    Damon nailed the role. So raw and emotionally impactful, probably his best since the Good Will Hunting days.

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 4, 2015 @ 10:39 pm Baranowski

    As I watched it I couldn’t help but think this is a giant recruitment video for NASA.

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      October 5, 2015 @ 12:54 am 31apricots

      If you look at recent sci-fi like Interstellar and Gravity and even Prometheus, they’re all NASA advertisements in one way or another.

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 4, 2015 @ 11:02 pm opiate time

    As a big fan of the book I had my doubts. But wow, this is really well done. The story really came alive on the screen better than I thought it would and Matt Damon embodied every bit of Mark Watney as written by Andy Weir.

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 4, 2015 @ 11:20 pm UNO

    I saw this on Friday and loved it.

  6. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 5, 2015 @ 1:26 am major hickey

    The science man’s ‘Cast Away’.

  7. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 5, 2015 @ 2:02 am placeholder

    One of the best movies of the year I thought. Only thing missing from it were Zombies from Mars. Zombies as we all know make anything better.

  8. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 5, 2015 @ 8:39 am One Commitment

    I can imagine I’d never stop talking to myself to stop from going insane from the isolation but from a watching on screen perspective I wished there wasn’t so much it. After a while it seemed to be used as a way to not have long sessions of silence, which I thought was strength of Gravity.

  9. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 5, 2015 @ 11:10 am flogger

    Enthralling & Gorgeous.

  10. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 5, 2015 @ 1:01 pm Sure

    I don’t know if it is the smartest picture of the year but it is definitely the most accessible smart picture of the year. All the science is broken down into chunks that they layman can understand and therefor actually enjoy.

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      October 8, 2015 @ 11:34 am weddingdayjitters

      That was my problem with Intersteller. While it was amazing to look at the science behind it all was hard to understand.

  11. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 5, 2015 @ 5:46 pm turnakey

    Good review. Martian is one of the few movies I’ve seen recetnly that lived up to my expectations.

  12. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 10, 2015 @ 2:40 pm superjesusarmy

    How many airlocks is it now that Damon is somehow responsible for destroying?

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      October 14, 2015 @ 5:24 pm plasteriddiam

      Two. One as a hopeless marooned astronaut and one as a hopeful marooned astronaut.

  13. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 10, 2015 @ 1:36 am Howard Schumann

    For all the excitement, awe, and energy that is worked up in The Martian, it might just as well have taken place in New York’s Central Park with the hero stuck up in a tree. What we have is gobs of scientific technospeak and a predictable plot that leaves no room for character development, introspection, or any sense of the mystery and wonder of exploring a new planet. The film may have “scienced the shit out of it,” but it also scienced the beauty out of it.

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