There has been a lot of great things written about this Best Picture contender. Ridley Scott is back, Matt Damon is charismatic and funny, an all-star cast that all deliver, and of course, its beautiful. I can’t add to those points much, and I agree with most of them, and yet somehow The Martian still left me wanting something more, or different, from the film.
The story requires very little recap, Mark Watney (Damon) is trapped on Mars, and if you saw the trailer, you know he needs to ‘science the s–t out of it’ to survive. And science he does, a whole lot of science. As the movie goes on however, I felt the science moved from smart and accessible MacGyver tactics to heavily layered and complicated physics and elaborate space maneuvers. It was too much. Especially near the end, where the sheer feat of rescuing the stranded astronaut should have been dramatic enough, but instead more and more obstacles, coupled with ridiculous solutions, were added. That said, there were lots of cool individual moments, like when Watney leaves a note in the Rover before he leaves, presumably for the next manned mission to find.
But the science aside, there were two things that kept me from really getting invested in The Martian; too much NASA and the stakes never felt real.
Comparisons have been drawn frequently between The Martian and Castaway. I actually wish this film had been a little more like Castaway. I feel this movie would have been more dramatic if it had spent more time with Damon for longer periods, and let the audience get sucked into the loneliness of being trapped. This would have made the juxtaposition of the overly positive and humorous character Damon plays so well all the more compelling. The heavily layered story in the third act took something away from the real highlight of the film, Matt Damon talking to himself. There was too much time spent off Mars with either NASA or the crew of the ship that left Watney behind. It’s a nit-pick, but the press conferences didn’t feel real, and the NASA is awesome message was a little too on the nose. Although, NASA is awesome, so I suppose it’s a needed message none the less.
The stakes in this movie, like most sci-fi adventure, continue to increase throughout, but despite the challenges facing Watney and the NASA team trying to help him, I never really felt he was in any danger of not surviving. Not because the dramatic situations weren’t serious (and abundant) because they were. There was one scene where a breach occurs in the habitat Watney calls home and he needs to repair it with tape and plastic. During a storm later that night you can hear the plastic flapping, and it is one of the few moments where the main character seems to show any dread himself. His humor and charisma are outstanding, but without a real balance of the seriousness of the situation to counter balance it, it loses something.
Over all The Martian was a good movie, with great acting, and a more burdened story than needed. I am glad I watched it, and most will like it, but can’t imagine going back to it anytime soon.