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.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Martian" cat1title="Jack's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]

Review: Elysium

Elysium-full-movie-download Director Neil Blomkamp caught everyone by surprise with his sci-fi editorial on the African apartheid struggle with 2009's excellent District 9. Thanks to the success of that film, expectations are high for his newest film which disguises more social commentary, this time an analysis of the social class struggle in this part of the world, inside a great science fiction action flick. The result is Elysium: a rousingly entertaining movie that stands on the level of the other staples in the genre. In Elysium, it's the mid-22nd century, and all of Earth is essentially a third-world country. Disease is rife, poverty is the norm, and life is generally depressing. When the world started to turn for the worse, the richest among us (aka the "1%") fled to space and a floating satellite utopia called Elysium where they can live their lives in harmonic bliss. Our hero Max Decosta (Matt Damon) is just an average guy who used to run afoul of the law in his youth, but is now just trying to live an honest and simple life in what's left of Los Angeles. An accident at work ends up leaving him with just days to live, and as a result becomes desperate to get to Elysium any way he can, as the medical facilities there can instantly heal any ailment. He reverts to his criminal ways to earn a trip up, and in the midst of a simple heist stumbles upon something that could change the course of both Earth and Elysium forever.

I was not expecting Elysium to be as action-packed as it was, but it was a pleasant surprise to get a movie very similar in tone and feel to Total Recall (the 1990 Schwarzenegger original, not the crap 2012 remake). Matt Damon remains one of our most versatile and talented leading men. As he is usually prone to do, Damon simultaneously commands the screen without dominating it allowing the supporting cast to shine brighter more than they might normally. Jodie Foster is fine as Elysium's ruthless Defense Secretary who is trying to keep Elysium's star shining by any means necessary. The real star here though is Sharlto Copley who as Kruger, a sociopathic Elysium sleeper agent with a tremendous blood lust, steals the entire movie as the villain you love to hate. There's also a subdued performance from the always excellent William Fichtner who is criminally underused in this film.

The plot in Elysium was surprisingly basic, if not predictable, which is really one of the only knocks against it. The movie makes up for this though with exciting action sequences and solid cinematography. There was never a point in Elysium where I was bored or felt the movie was dragging along. I also tend to geek out over setting in movies like these and I was a fan of the visual polarity of the dystopian Earth contrasting with the pristine Elysium which the gamer nerd in me thought bore at least a thematic resemblance to the Mass Effect series' Citadel. Overall, I feel like Elysium is a much more accessible film than District 9; it's no meathead action flick, but it's not too smart to alienate people looking for something simpler.

Elysium was a great movie to watch, and it's always nice to see a movie born of a topical issue not get too wrapped up in the message it's sending to forget to be entertaining as well. I'll be watching Elysium again at some point, and you should make it point to watch it as well, as it's one of the finer sci-fi films in recent memory.

[easyreview title= "Review of Elysium" cat1title="Brad's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]