Optimism is a concept that is just too often misused in films. Most films that attempt to be optimistic end up drowning themselves in it and the film has no stakes or realistic characters. So it’s a rare sight to see a film that is optimistic and earns that optimism. We are at a point where NASA needs all the optimism it can get. So it’s a delight to say that The Martian is a much needed and well-deserved look at the future of space exploration through optimistic eyes. So much was going against this film (director Ridley Scott was already an overrated director before he went on his current run of duds and there have already been quite a few major space films over the past few years), and yet The Martian completely delivers.
The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (a well-cast Matt Damon) after he is abandoned on Mars when his crew thinks him dead in a hectic retreat during a surprise storm. With only his botanist knowledge and the remaining gear that his crew left behind, Mark must find a way to contact Earth and survive until a rescue can be mounted.
It’s hard not see a lot of similarities between this film and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Both crisscross between action on Earth and in space. Both have a heart for science and a sense of optimism in humanity. Both even share actors (Damon and Jessica Chastain). However, Interstellar is much more of an ambitious piece. While that would seemingly go against The Martian’s favor, Ridley Scott’s latest film more than makes up for it by being so finely tuned. Every sequence seems like it has a purpose and the constant jumping from one set of characters to another makes editor Pietro Scalia’s work look like a work of art. Just as impressive is Drew Goddard’s screenplay (adapted from Andy Weir’s bestselling book of the same name), which finds room for humor, intense horror and enough big moments for over ten characters while still making its core sense of optimism shine through from beginning to end.
The film boasts an impressive cast that is led by Damon. Damon has always come across as an actor that has always been solid if never truly impressive (although his turn in Interstellar was quite against character for him and memorable), and that works perfectly in this film where he is pretty much playing a character that the audience can see themselves in. While the supporting turns are all around great it’s hard not to mention the multidimensionality that Jeff Daniels brings to his role as a NASA head and the sturdiness that Jessica Chastain brings to her role as the mission captain.
The Martian is one of the most joyful experiences you will have at a theater this year.