The Martian is the latest from director Ridley Scott, the man behind such sci-fi classics as Alien and Blade Runner. It stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and a host of other award winning and nominated actors.
The plot of The Martian is pretty straight forward. A group of astronauts are on Mars when a dust storm forces them to leave or risk their ship being destroyed. Everyone makes it off but Matt Damon who is assumed dead. Turns out he's not, and the film becomes a mix of Damon finding inventive ways to keep himself alive, and the NASA team back on Earth trying to develop equally inventive ways to get him home alive.
The film is based on the self published book of the same name written by Andy Weir. The film manages to pull the best bits out of the book while mostly avoiding the negative. The film is at times funny (Damon's character does have some of the "wise cracking" attitude of the Mark Watney character from the book, but it's more believable here), and almost always hopeful (something that the book was to a fault). It was a bit of a relief to see these characteristics in a blockbuster film that is considered a science fiction. Now, don't get me wrong, I love bleak sci-fi as much as any Road-Warrior-double-barrel touting fan, but it's nice for something different to come to theaters from time to time.
Now, that being said, the movie just doesn't have enough tension. Other than at the climax of the film, there was never a situation where I was really afraid Damon or any of his crew mates were at any real risk of dying. This is a problem the movie inherited from the book (in the book Watney is a bubbling sun-ray of positivity that is never shaken, no matter how dire his circumstances are), and it does a better job of humanizing Watney, giving us a couple of scenes where the fear in his eyes or in his curses reminds us that this dude isn't on vacation, he's stranded on a deserted planet where nothing is alive but him. The movie could have used more of that. I think another miss step was not giving Watney family, or at least friends, to contemplate never seeing again as he floated in space on that big red rock. Instead he only mentions his parents once while writing an email to another astronaut, simply asking them to tell his parents that he loved them and he enjoyed his job. It's just not enough to make Damon's character feel fully fleshed out, and for the tension of his ALWAYS possible death to be there. Aside from that, the film is beautiful, the cast is good, the science is pretty fun, and the jokes and occasional dash of tension make it worth seeing and better than most films that have come out this year.