Movie Review: The Martian

In an age where films about space travel and astronauts in peril have become the norm, as advancements in special effects and the increased desire to go deeper into the unknown continues to expand, this year brings us a late but worthy entry with The Martian. An entertaining space flick that evolved into an odd mix of Apollo 13 and Cast Away (surprisingly without the help of Tom Hanks), The Martian efficiently became both a box-office hit, and also one of the most entertaining films of the year. With a "stellar" cast, reminiscent of last year's Interstellar, and a gracious amount of thrills led by the hilarious Matt Damon, this trip to Mars is well-worth the time and money. 

When astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is left behind after a mission to Mars by NASA's Ares III crew, one might expect that he wouldn't even last an hour. But lasting nearly three years, well that may be just be insane; but leave it to Watney to determine just what insane really looks like. After being struck by massive debris within a deadly storm, Watney is left alone and in danger on the red planet, with his crew forced to evacuate to Earth without him. Using his expert wisdom of both space travel and botany, the lone astronaut is left to his own devices as he struggles to survive, using what limited resources he has to -- as he put it -- "science the sh*t out of this". With NASA soon learning of his survival, mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his team (Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels) must find a way to save Watney, all before the witty astronaut meets his maker nearly 54 million kilometers away.

Going into this film, you could say I was a bit conflicted. On one side of my mind, I looked upon this glorified rehash of space dramas and planetary action with both excitement and great anticipation, as the cast looked just as amazing as the story did. On the other side, however, I predicted the film might be either less exciting than the comical book it was based on, or, like I said, a rehash of the space tropes we've seen before. Leaving the theater, however, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the film, as it evoked a familiar formula from films like Cast Away and Interstellar, but also delivered something so unique it was hard not to take note of. Based on the popular novel by Andy Weir, the witty and charismatic persona of Mark Watney -- and his fellow space comrades as well -- translated amazingly to the big screen. While I'll discuss book-to-film adaptations later on, I'll just say right now that this may be one of the best we've seen in a while.

One of the things that led this film to success would have to be the brilliant cast. From leading-man Matt Damon to some memorable outings by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain, the cast of the film managed to successfully keep this film from drifting into the typical space survival clich├ęs. Leading the pack, we have the always-amazing Damon, who dominated the screen with his charming yet arrogant astronaut. Diving into Weir's novel a while back, before the film was ever announced, I knew if they were to make a film, they'd need someone with enough star-power and wit under his belt to take on the lead role. Becoming Mark Watney, a willing, determined man whose never afraid to get himself killed, Damon shines as he takes hold of the audience from the beginning, and doesn't let them go until he's nearly blown to bits. Happy to see Damon back in a lead role, after a few forgettable or minor roles in last year's The Monuments Men and Interstellar, this film only increased my desire to see him return to his Jason Bourne persona next year. A great action star, as well as a damn good dramatic actor, Damon steal the show just as he should in another great lead role.

The rest of the cast was just as any Ridley Scott film would be: Full of great talent, but not used to its full potential. Likely so for a film such as this, as Damon is meant to be taking up much of the screen-time, the remaining cast definitely shines in its own way, but doesn't offer much in great performances. Just as 2013's The Counselor and last year's Exodus: Gods and Kings rounded up a brilliant cast including Michael Fassbender, Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, and Penelope Cruz, The Martian collects a cast of Oscar-winners and others, only to deliver underwhelming performances. With Scott's last few films not entirely impressing me, The Martian was a slight improvement, as Oscar-winner Chiwetel Ejiofor, alongside Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean, rounded out the cast with decent outings. In the end, the film was really about Mark Watney and his struggle on the red planet, director Ridley Scott succeeding at providing us with a lovable lead.    

As I mentioned before, this film was one of the best book-to-film adaptations I've seen in a while. This year already delivering its usual plethora of decent adaptations -- including the raunchy but dull Fifty Shades of Grey, the lacking sequels of Insurgent and The Scorch Trials, and the annual Nicholas Sparks kissing fest in The Longest Ride -- not many of them stuck with moviegoers. With most of the world anticipating the final Hunger Games flick, there stands only a small period for the others to occupy much of the audience's attention. With Martian, however, I had known of the book prior to seeing the film, and was skeptical if it would be able to capture the witty success of the space novel. Luckily, just as the clever summer teen flick of the year, Paper Towns, did before, The Martian managed to (mostly) stick to the source material with a great final product. Delivering a witty, action-packed romp, rather than a glossy teen-fueled drama or a glorified porno with somewhat of a story, this adaptation ended in nothing but praise from both fans of the book and fans of the science-fiction genre.

Overall, The Martian was the first step into a decent Fall season of films. Offering up a tasty duel between real science and gripping action and drama,  the film took us on one of the year's wildest rides (just a bit more tamer than Mad Max), while also knocking on our brains to take in some valuable planetary survival tips. With the winter season quickly approaching, and the race for award glory beginning, The Martian may not be Oscar-worthy, but it's definitely a worthy flick to see in theaters this year.

I gave this film an 8 out of 10 for its brilliant cast of famous and unknown faces -- from leading man Matt Damon to Donald Glover's comical space nerd -- its fantastic yet somewhat overused premise of lone survivors and space rescues, and its dynamic writing, courtesy of the witty Andy Weir and Daredevil's Drew Goddard.      

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