Review: The Martian – MacGyver of Mars

The MartianFall is here again and, in a trend that started with Gravity in 2013 and continued with Interstellar last year, another awesome space epic has hit the theaters. This time around, with The Martian, director Ridley Scott proves that in space no one can hear you scream about doing countless handyman projects.

The Martian puts the ‘science’ back into science- fiction, at least from my perspective (we’ll see what Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say about it), and even though the film glosses over much of the scientific minutia contained in the very good book by Andy Weir, you’ll still leave the theater feeling much smarter than when you went in – quite a feat in this era of moronic mall cops and rapping robots. (That’s right, I haven’t forgotten about you, Chappie!) 

In a fictional future, on a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is abandoned and left for dead by his comrades (played by Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan and Michael Pena), who desperately depart the planet before being swept away in massive Martian dust storm.

While his fellow astronauts are on their long trip back to Earth, Watney must fend for himself and try to survive until NASA’s next planned mission to the red planet, four years in the future. The isolated astronaut must become the ‘Macgyver’ of Mars, figuring out how to grow enough food and make enough water and oxygen to last for years beyond the group’s original mission. Not to mention having to travel hundreds of miles to the next mission’s planned rendezvous point.

The MartianThrough Mark’s ingenuity, he’s finally able to communicate with Earth and coordinates a potential rescue with NASA engineers and scientists, including characters played by Sean Bean, Mackenzie Davis, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor; with the space agency’s public relations liaison portrayed by Kristen Wiig (in a rather odd choice of casting.)

A man sitting around talking to himself and clacking away at a computer makes for inherently boring cinema, but Scott, together with the film’s screenwriter, Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), manages to overcome those obstacles and keep us extremely entertained throughout the film’s 141 minute running time.

Damon carries the bulk of this film on his shoulders and he does a fantastic job, perfectly portraying the forsaken astronaut, Watney, as heroic and smart, but still vulnerable and desperately alone.

The Martian contains a slew of pop culture references that are sure to please astute nerds, and it also has a great soundtrack of seventies disco music (including an end credit tune that is absolutely perfect.) But I’m disappointed they couldn’t find a way to work in the most obvious song choice – Elton John’s Rocket Man. Cold as Hell, indeed.

The MartianAnother disappointment is that one of the book’s most intense and climatic parts was left completely out of the movie. In fact the next to final act seemed very rushed and overly condensed. This probably won’t bother you unless you’ve read the book, but if you have, then, you’ve been warned.

Like its survival story brethren (especially Man in the Wilderness, Castaway and Gravity), The Martian celebrates the human spirit and our clever capability to endure, despite the odds against us. This is a great movie (and book, by the way.) Grade: 9/10

Photos © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.