Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut left for dead on Mars when a mission goes wrong. He fights for his survival while NASA tries to form a plan to get him back.
The Martian is a minimalist, hard sci-fi take on survival in space. It’s an homage to science, engineering, and the power of smart problem solving. The procedural nature of the film is fascinating, especially when the stakes are so high.
This, combined with Scott’s knack for making Hollywood blockbusters (and of course his sci-fi cred), makes for a riveting cocktail. He has an eye for big, impressive vistas and makes the film look great all while keeping things going at a steady pace.
Damon is naturalistic to the point of being two dimensional but his actions speak louder than words. Same goes for the rest of the cast. This fits in quite nicely with the ‘realistic’ tone Scott tries to lend to the film. At some points The Martian feels like it’s re-telling real-life events, Apollo 13 style (although somewhat less bombastic in its approach).
One can’t help but feel like Scott probably should have taken the minimalist idea further. When things get a little quiet we cut to scenes of people whooping and hollering from all round the world as they watch the rescue mission. People cheer in mission control all the time, even when they are far from in the clear. He needs to sell cinema tickets of course, but there was definitely potential for something a little more ambitious.
Still, despite this The Martian manages to be a smart, well made, completely engrossing film. Ridley Scott’s best work in quite some time.