Review: The Martian

maxresdefault-16-600x338 The lights go down, the screen goes black, and the next thing viewers see is a group of astronauts already on Mars, a catastrophe about to occur. From the very beginning The Martian is entertaining but empty, devoid of consequence or empathy but still a fun ride despite itself.

Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a botanist turned astronaut left behind by his team on Mars. With minimal supplies and a hell of a lot of gumption, he struggles to survive on a planet empty of the things humans need to live, until a rescue can be attempted. Watney is up to the challenge, and luckily ends up getting help from both the NASA team on Earth and his own crew members to develop a plan for survival and, eventually, escape.

The situation seems dire… but not for the viewer. Damon has a lot of fun in the role of a sarcastic space genius, and that might be part of the problem. You rarely feel like Watney is in any sort of danger, and the chance he might not make it home isn’t even a consideration. He doesn’t have any ties on Earth that are ever mentioned to worry about, and everyone around him thinks he’s, well, kind of an ass. There aren’t any reasons to root against the character, but there aren’t many reasons to root for him, either. And when we leave the action on Mars, scenes with the supporting characters on Earth and the returning spaceship slow the story down to a crawl. Some of the actors are well utilized (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor) and some are there just to take up space (Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena) and at least one serves a little more than a Deus Ex Machina (Donald Glover.) Of course it takes more than one man to get home from Mars, and I liked some of the brainstorming scenes that take place as the earthlings scramble to figure out how to bring Watney home. But there is no denying that it slows down the pace of the film and needlessly extends the run time.

This is also a movie that prides itself on the realism of its science, and doing so creates another speed bump for the film. In the final third of the run time the science starts getting a little wacky, and finally rockets all the way up to Road Runner territory. For a movie determined to present a realistic approach to science and space travel, the last 20 minutes veer straight into action movie territory, with science saving the day Bruce Willis in Armageddon-style. I would’ve preferred they kept the escape a little more believable at it’s conclusion.

Despite its fumbles, The Martian is a solid film that’s funny and occasionally smart and worth your hard-earned dollars. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it’s an entertaining movie that’s well shot and well directed. As we move towards the end of the cinematic year, that’s more than I usually hope for.

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