Based on Andy Weir's novel, The Martian is a 2015 science-fiction film about an astronaut who finds himself stuck alone on Mars when his team abandons him thinking he died during a dust storm. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Matt Damon in the lead role.
Armed with an all-star supporting cast, The Martian sold itself as a kind of space-set take on Castaway focusing on one man's unlikely survival in a desolate, unpredictable setting. It was a big hit upon its release and it earned itself two Golden Globes as well as multiple Academy Award nominations. While there are glaring technical and scientific inaccuracies in the film, which is fine since this is a science-fiction story after all, a lot of effort was put into making the film feel as realistic as possible.
Indeed, when it comes to stranded botanist astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and what he has to deal with, everything seems relatively plausible from growing potatoes using his own feces to using the Pathfinder probe as a way to communicate with Earth. This is a loving homage to problem-solving and Watney's smart approach to dealing with potential certain death is inspiring. Though perhaps a more charismatic lead might have sold that a tad more convincingly?
There is, frankly, something rather vapid about The Martian as it constantly fails to really connect with the viewer on an emotional level. In its hefty 142 minutes, the film instantly shows us why we should care about Watney (he is optimistic and has good survival instincts) but it never builds on that. His friendship with the crew that eventually comes back to try and save him is almost entirely implied as we only see Watney communicating with them through computer messages. This astronaut almost seems too good at what he does and Matt Damon, while he delivers a solid performance, doesn't quite manage to show us how this character feels, who he is and what other dimensions he has despite being a clever botanist and recording borderline narcissistic vlogs.
There are some great performances here from the likes of Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and many others that feel a lot more human than Damon's. On the plus side, this is a slick movie in terms of visuals, the soundtrack is very good and the ending does have a good amount of suspense to it.
There's a great film in The Martian somewhere. On the surface, this is the perfect Oscar-friendly sci-fi film with its Man vs Nature survival story but it is just too predictable, too long and too shallow to truly feel like a worthwhile and rewarding experience overall. There's a lot of talent involved and that pays off here and there but The Martian is altogether a little disappointing.
Worth one watch, probably not two.