The Martian: An Astounding Series of Unfortunate Events…in Space!

The Martian - IMDBIn space and its surrounding unknowns, anything can and will go wrong. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Exodus: Gods and Kings) -with the aid of writer Drew Goddard who masterfully adapts the Andy Weir novel – cruelly reminds audiences of this objective reality with The Martian, a beautiful, exhausting think piece on the dangers of our universe that manages to be educational, deeply emotional and thoroughly exhilarating from moment one.

Premise: Astronaut Matt Watney is left for dead on Mars after an emergency evacuation of his crew. Result: A thoroughly engaging thriller that manages to magnetize the true majesty of space and the science that makes it possible.

Our seemingly endless journey (the film is 141 minutes in length) begins with the crew of Ares III already on Mars for several weeks going about their mundane routine (except of course this is on Mars so literally collecting rocks is way cooler there!). But when a terrible storm threatens their mission, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) aborts mission; but not without a causality when Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead and thus abandoned to the sands of the Red Planet.

Mark is not dead, of course, salvaged by fate or happenstance; instead, he confronts the reality of limited food, water and oxygen on a hostile planets environment and decides to live. What ensues is a spectacularly interesting dramatized documentary of Mars living MacGyver-style. The scenes are captivating, wrapped in urgency and uncertainty, appropriately canvassed with humor to keep audiences from succumbing to the pressure and keeling over right there in the theater. Every minute is somehow intensely exhilarating and while we may be watching for weeks, we are none the wiser.

But in our story, Mark is not alone. On Earth we have teams of multi- national engineers and bureaucrats like NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), Mars Missions Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Ares III Lead Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean, lead engineer Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong) and an interminable laundry list of others, who scramble to rescue our wayward protagonist. This is then offset by his own crew, riddled with guilt at abandoning him, and of course, true VIPs aboard the hero train going right to our collective hearts ( this gets sappy fast but it is fortunately balanced).

Somehow they make a lot of this interesting

Somehow they make a lot of this interesting

The Martian basically has everything to keep our attention while always existing firmly in the context of the reasonable – after all, everything that goes wrong, as emotionally taxing as it is to observers, is far more likely to happen than anything that goes right. As a result, observers will be perpetually destabilized as they gaze at the Mars horizons in prostrate terror.

The performances are both collectively understated and superb. Damon is a perfect balance of all the agony and hope that we might rightly expect from any person. We root for him and hope for him and by the film’s end might as well be close relatives or loyal pets. In addition, Chastain and her crew of Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie all more than hold their own as important supports.

Daniels and Ejiofor are both wonderful in their calm playing of the political game while Bean is powerful as the additional hand of reason and humanity in the mix. Kristen Wiig is hilarious but powerfully understated as is Wong.

In the end, The Martian is a cinematic marvel. Certainly the best Scott film in years, it is an intelligent, non-stop thrill ride from moment one and never lets us go. It is a boon for NASA, an organization often plagued by bad PR and without the need to time travel or black holes or anything else that could distract from the true science of it all. Perhaps the greatest testament to this film: finally, being smart seems sexy again.

Rating: 9 –  An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

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