For some reason that I can’t really understand, Ridley Scott has gotten a bad rap over the last couple of years. Movies like ‘Robin Hood’, Kingdom of Heaven’, ‘Exodus’, and even ‘Prometheus’ (to a lesser extent) were beat up by either audiences or critics. Yet, I have enjoyed every one of them in one way or another. ‘Exodus’ certainly had its issues, but all the other films I mentioned were really good. I would actually argue with most that ‘Prometheus’ was great.
So, it’s not even slightly surprising to me that ‘The Martian’ is as good as it is. The thing that’s surprising is that everyone else seems so surprised. This is a Ridley Scott movie, and Ridley Scott is one of the best directors in the business. This is a Matt Damon movie, and Matt Damon is one of the best actors in the business. This is based on a highly entertaining book, and the movie is highly entertaining. There is nothing surprising about any of this.
Well, I take that back. I was a bit surprised by how a movie that is easily one of the smartest I’ve ever seen could be so damn funny. This might actually be one of the funnier movies of the year. If you can believe that. There are quite honestly more comedic lines that land in this movie than just about any of the comedies I’ve seen in 2015. Which is either a sad statement about this years comedies or a wonderful statement about how much fun this movie is. I’d go with the second one.
The story behind ‘The Martian’ is not that complicated. Matt Damon plays an astronaut, named Mark Watney, who is presumed dead by his crew when a storm blows him away. Now, usually someone would figure this thing out pretty quick like, but the problem with Mark’s situation is that he’s on Mars. So, what plays out after Mark realizes he has been abandoned is a combination of ‘Cast Away’ and ‘Apollo 13’.
Mostly, we spend our time with Mark and watch his adventures in trying to stay alive by growing potatoes on Mars, but there is also a lot going on back on Earth. It takes a little while for Mark to figure out how to communicate with the people on earth, but when he does it becomes very clear that they have a large task ahead of them. One of the many pleasures of this film comes in the ability for the audience to watch a plethora of talented actors play extremely smart characters. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wigg, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Pena are just a few of the actors playing astronauts and NASA engineers with the intelligence that only a great script can provide.
Still, this movie is mostly a one man show. I was surprised to learn that this movie is around two hours and 14 minutes long. Not because very Little happens in it, but because so much time is spent with just Mark that it’s amazing the film is so consistently entertaining. Luckily, we live in a world where it’s not uncommon for people to keep video diaries. So, One of the ways the movie keeps the pace rolling smooth is by letting Mark fill us in with his daily routine. This might sound boring to some, but I promise you that watching an astronaut figure out how to retrofit the Mars rover to communicate with earth is a lot more fun with a clever monologue.
And fun is the best way to describe ‘The Martian’. Most will expect a more serious affair. That’s not this movie. Truthfully, this film is more a popcorn blockbuster than a serious Oscar contender. Which is totally fine because this might be the smartest popcorn movie I’ve ever seen.