The Martian will be compared a lot to 2013's Gravity. Mostly because both films focus on a single person fighting back against overwhelming odds in an environment that wants to destroy them (the vacuum of space in Gravity and the surface of Mars in The Martian), but the films have one major difference: The Martian will most likely be the best film of the year.
The Martian is faithfully based off of Andy Weir's 2011 self-published novel of the same name. The book was one of those phenomena where you only had to hear about the book once and then half the people you know were reading it and raving about it. Call it the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, except instead of learning how to incorrectly engage in a sub/dom relationship, The Martian is all about hard science, bravery, and how completely and utterly badass it is to be human.
Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut that gets left behind on Mars by his crew when he is incorrectly presumed dead. The film bounces between the people at NASA trying to figure out how to save him and his crew on their way back to Earth, unaware of his survival. To give much more away than that would be cruel.
While Watney goes through some incredible difficulties, the movie (like the novel) is pretty laid back about the whole thing. Not everything goes according to planned, but most things go pretty well (like Watney's attempts to grow potatoes), and that ratchets up the tension instead of deflating it. Damon effortlessly lays on the charm in an affable performance, making Watney so relatable that the thought of him not surviving his ordeal is almost unbearable.
The knockout supporting cast includes Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, the irreplaceable Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, and the brilliant Chiwetal Ejiofor. Every character has at least one moment dedicated to making them three-dimensional, and in the hands of this excellent cast, the film is a pleasure from beginning to end.
The Martian is going to make a huge splash, financially and otherwise. It would be very surprising if Matt Damon didn't pick up a Best Actor nomination (and possible win), with Chastain and Ejiofor following suit. This film is a crowd-pleaser in the old fashioned sense of the word with movie star performances, grand, breathtaking vistas (enhanced by the best 3-D photography in years), and a script by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) that is educational, intense, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
With this film, Ridley Scott has done his best work since Gladiator, if not Blade Runner. There is not a wasted moment in the script and Scott has always excelled when given the right material (with the wrong material we end up with Prometheus or Exodus: Gods and Kings). His work here is precise, poised, and seemingly effortless in its ability to tell an intimate story of a man trapped alone on an entire planet, while simultaneously making a popcorn guzzling epic on a massive scale. Scott is a virtuosic filmmaker and reminds us of that again, right when we needed it.
Even in a year where we've already had masterpieces like Inside Out and Fury Road, and still have Hateful Eight, Star Wars, and The Revenant to look forward to, The Martian will be hard to beat for Best Picture of the year. Every second of this film feels perfectly calibrated to balance the viewer between heart-pounding intensity, tears of wonder, and outright belly laughs. The Martian is why we go to movies. Period.
Director: Ridley Scott
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