Review: ‘The Martian’ Astonishes

The Martian is, for lack of a better word, astonishing. From one moment to the next you’re gripping the armrest, just waiting to see what twist director Ridley Scott – working from Andy Weir’s tightly-wound novel – will throw at you next. There is a good chance you will leave the theater wanting to see it again.

The plot of The Martian is simple. American astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from his crewmates in a violent storm on Mars and is left behind, presumed dead. However, he is very much alive and now he has to let Earth know it. It’s a tremendous problem, but Watney is the crew’s biologist and he thinks he’ll make it. His method is to solve the problem in front of him and then move on to the next one. He sums this up rather directly: “I’m going to have science the shit out of this.” As Watney, Damon nails the humor in Weir’s novel. The film is filled with a fantastic plot, realistic science, an awe-inspiring Martian surface, and stellar performances.

The science elements of the film are woven in seamlessly and don’t seem above the audiences head. The film handles the scientific jargon by having Watney explain what he’s doing to a video mission log. NASA consulted on the film and it’s quite evident.

The cinematography is stunning. Mars is shown as beautiful, majestic, and bleak. From one moment to the next we are witness to the Martian elements trying their best to kill Watney, and as an audience we see his pure will to survive at all costs. Scott also incorporates a cornucopia of shots and shots using a go pro which, when mixed together, put you center stage in this tale of ultimate survival. Scott’s and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s shot selections are masterful.

In reality, the key to this movie rested on the broad shoulders of Matt Damon. Some may argue that this movie is a collaborative effort due to the fantastic performances from an all star supporting cast (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, and Chiwetel Ejiofor) but in reality they are but notes in Damon’s symphony of brilliance. It’s important to note that a large portion of this movie does have just Damon on screen dealing with the emotional and physical tolls of being on Mars. He delivers an authentic performance of a man who at times comes to accept an inevitable fate, but is still determined to never give up. Even in the face of what seems to be unbeatable odds, Watney manage to mix in the humor. The Martian is truly a movie about the human spirit. Damon’s performance will draw the attention of Oscar voters, whether that translates into an inevitable nomination remains to be seen.

I challenge you to find a space exploration film as succinct as The Martian, one with the same range of emotion, fantastic visuals, stellar moments of acting brilliance, and a relatable plot-line that anyone can get behind. Too often these types of films will pull off some elements, but may miss a crucial one, causing it to fall just short. The Martian doesn’t miss, it is a masterful motion picture.

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Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.

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