The Martian is a movie about a man who is stranded on Mars, who must use his own ingenuity combined with those back on Earth to find a way and survive until help arrives. Overall the film is pretty entertaining, and possesses a novel identity as a movie about engineering and problem-solving. In this review I’d like to go over what I thought was good, not-so-good, and what was great about the film.
The movie is entertaining because the story is believable and engaging. The film focuses on the problem at hand, rather than try to delve into trivial matters unrelated to its main plot. When Matt Damon wakes up to find himself alone on Mars, the film from that point on is only concerned with how he will survive and find a way back to Earth, and that was excellent decision on the director’s/producer’s/writer’s behalf. A lesser film may have had a few scenes showing the reaction of his loved ones back on Earth, for example, which would have accomplished nothing plotwise. Or the film might’ve explored Damon’s psychological trauma brought on by being literally the only person on the planet, and/or feelings of being abandoned by his companions. Or we might’ve gotten flashbacks of Damon’s character as a kid and why he chose to become an astronaut; innocent childhood dream juxtaposed with the harsh reality of adulthood. Thankfully, the film doesn’t bother with that hogwash, and instead chooses correctly to embrace itself as a film about science and engineering first and foremost. It is this type of focus that can turn a movie with a simple premise into a movie that can capture our attention for two hours. Compare this with Gravity, which tried to add in the protagonist’s dramatic/psychological problems to the main problem of trying to get back to Earth. The result was an unconvincing and distracting narrative that felt like a stereotype and ended up doing nothing for the film’s story.
I gotta say, I really enjoyed the soundtrack of the film. This also ties in with the movie’s sense of humour. It was funny without being too corny, and despite the questionable nature of a man being stranded on Mars still being capable of cracking jokes, I did find myself laughing along with him. I think it succeeds as a light-hearted film because it’s a story about hope. The banter in the film, and the protagonist’s attitude toward his predicament all combine to reinforce the film’s core message and identity. I don’t know how else to describe it, but this plus the focus as discussed above is what is needed for a film to achieve “movie magic”, something that forces the audience to accept the universe within the film as is and without question. Okay, maybe I just used a fancy way to describe “suspension of disbelief”, so there it is.
For the record, I thought this was a good film, and I am basically nitpicking at this point.
While watching the movie I was somewhat disappointed how predictable everything was. During the climax, we all knew the tether wouldn’t be long enough, but somehow Matt Damon would still make it. Setting up the plot such that the audience is aware the mission’s failure would result in all the astronaut’s dying makes it a foregone conclusion that there’s a happy ending waiting for us.
There were also a couple of stereotypes that stood out like sore thumbs. We have the boss who comes off as a jerk, an underling who is secretly a genius and discovers the one method to save the day (though I remain unconvinced that regular scientists at NASA couldn’t figure out to use the Earth’s gravity for the slingshot effect. They did it with the moon in Armageddon!), and the PR agent didn’t seem to do anything except ask questions for the audience’s benefit. The film did many other things right, but it’s a shame the effort didn’t extend to characters who came off as transparent and hollow.
This is the part where the “bad” things are forgiven.
Though I said the movie was predictable, the climax still succeeded in being a tense moment. Maybe I’m a sucker, but even though I knew Matt Damon was going to be rescued, the scene where he finally grabs a hold of his commander’s hand was immensely satisfying. We’re aware that the good guys usually win, and that most movies follow the 3-act structure with tried and trodden parameters, and The Martian is no exception. Yet the film is still enjoyable and entertaining, because of what was stated earlier about the film’s overall focus. In this case, we saw throughout the movie Matt Damon’s character suffering setbacks, overcoming obstacles, and sticking it out, so by the end of the story we want him to make it back home, and it feels damn good when he does.
Also, while I did lament the existence of stereotypical characters, overall the film did a great job portraying scientists as real people. Hollywood has a history of portraying “scientists” as eccentric loners who make Star Wars jokes, but the scientists in The Martian are diverse and come across as real people. They don’t have crazy hair and they’re not all played by handsome actors. They are people trying to do their jobs, and they go through normal workplace things like being behind schedule, banging their heads against certain problems, and having a varied sense of humour. So thank you, writer(s) of The Martian, for reminding audiences that scientists are people too.
Finally, there is one last thing the movie did which I thought was great. In our current moment in history, with ISIS and other terrorists seeking to accomplish their objectives through fear and by dividing us, it was great seeing the montage of different people across the planet banding together as a symbol of hope. Yeah, I’m not too sure I like bringing politics into a movie review either, but the film resonated with me in this way, so here I am talking about it. Not only was it the cooperation of two superpowers, but also the regular civilians standing shoulder-to-shoulder, hoping against hope for one man to make it back home. It was nice, and hope is something that needs to be present and reinforced, given recent world events, and the film did a good job of it without going overboard, so thumbs up for that.
I doubt I would watch this movie again. Once was enough, but I’m glad I did. I forgot to mention in the main review but this movie is also great because it advocates scientific pursuit and space colonization, which is awesome. In this respect, the film is important culturally, and it is potent in showing the not-so-glamorous side of being an astronaut.
Highly recommend if you’re a fan of space flicks. I almost said “fan of science-fiction”, but that would be incorrect, and this is a testament to the film’s integrity as a scientific movie, and which is praiseworthy in of itself while being a genuinely entertaining story.
This has been a gamobo review.