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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Martian

The Martian (2015)
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Ridley Scott

A huge success this fall, I avoided The Martian until the final week it was in theaters (heck, it's being released on Blu-Ray in less than a month) because of a lengthier running time in a genre that I don't dislike but isn't particularly my favorite.  Science fiction flicks oftentimes feel so heavily bogged down with jargon or "deep thinking" that they just don't seem fun.  (I'm talking to you, Interstellar - a film that I didn't mind, but at times felt like a chore to watch.)  While The Martian certainly has hefty scientific details running through it, director Ridley Scott's film is surprisingly witty, full of some charming performances, and has a story that is briskly paced and immensely enjoyable.

Matt Damon is, for all intents and purposes, the title character.  In 2035, botanist Mark Watney is left behind on Mars by the crew of the Ares III after he is struck by debris during a gigantic dust storm and unable to be found.  All indications according to the life support systems in Mark's suit point to him being dead so the crew (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie) -- forced to make a difficult decision as the huge storm will soon make their ship unable to function -- start their three year journey home saddened for Mark's apparent death.  After the storm dissipates, Mark wakes up to find his suit impaled by an antenna which took out his biometer, but also, when mixed with Mark's blood, formed a seal on the suit keeping Mark alive.  Mark returns to the Mars astronaut base and begins to analyze his next moves.  Unable to communicate with Earth, Mark figures out a variety of ingenious ways to keep himself alive in hopes that at some point, he'll be able to get back in touch with NASA.

Meanwhile on Earth, satellite analyst Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) notices that there is movement on Mars in the area where the Ares crew lived while on the planet and determines that Mark is actually alive.  She immediately informs NASA director Teddy Sanders, NASA media relations head Annie Montrose, and Mars mission director Vincent Kapoor (respectively Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and plans are put into place to attempt to get Mark back.

Undoubtedly, The Martian is one of director Ridley Scott's best films -- and certainly his best in over a decade.  Quite frankly, I'm amazed at how involved I found myself in the story.  While not as solitary as a film like Cast Away in which Tom Hanks was essentially the only character onscreen, for huge portions of The Martian Matt Damon is the only actor onscreen.  Rather cleverly, screenwriter Drew Goddard has crafted a device where he has Mark talk to a computer screen in a video diary-type set-up which allows the audience to get into Mark's head and allows for quite a few comedic moments as Mark contemplates how to survive.  Combined, Scott's direction and Goddard's script keep things moving at an incredibly solid and tremendously surprising clip, creating a film that's hugely pleasant to watch.

While I certainly don't have anything against the actor, Matt Damon has never been a favorite of mine, but I must admit that the actor is quite captivating here.  There's a charm he brings to Mark that's intensely watchable, handling the humor and drama quite well and balancing both with ease.  The rest of the cast is also quite solid with not a bad egg in the bunch, but even though folks like Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor figure in quite a bit story-wise, this is really Damon's film and he holds our interest much more than I ever thought he would.

Admittedly, the film's big set piece that makes up the conclusion seems a little far-fetched, but despite the ridiculousness of it, I still found the denouement quite compelling and excitingly lensed.  Quite honestly, though, what's most intriguing about The Martian is how the science of what keeps Mark alive is placed so squarely front and center and seems shockingly plausible (with the exception of that seemingly ludicrous conclusion).  Not only is The Martian funny, but it's also surprisingly smart...and somehow it's still enjoyable.  Kudos to the entire team behind this one as I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one nearly as much as I did.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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