‘The Martian’ evokes emotions across the board including triumph and frustration
I realize “The Martian” is supposed to be about the triumph of the human spirit and believing in yourself and all of those fleetingly inspirational thoughts that come from watching Matt Damon grow potatoes on Mars, but I can’t be the only one who watched “The Martian” and realized just how woefully inadequate I would be at space survival.
Seeing Damon turn rocket fuel into water or using discarded uranium as a makeshift heater — and seeing him do all of this with a sort of bemused distance — reminded me that I’d be dead within the hour, struggling to open my packet of freeze-dried ice cream as I drowned in the mixture of tears and panic induced urine welling up inside of my spacesuit.
I barely have the problem-solving capabilities to figure out how to buy potatoes but somehow I’m supposed to picture myself terraforming Mars into a starchy fantasyland of enchantment? Maybe my human spirit doesn’t deserve to triumph. Maybe it deserves to drown in one of the many briny canals found on Mars.
You’re making me feel stupid “The Martian” but in spite of those unwavering insecurities, you’re still an entertaining, albeit bloated and overlong, movie.
Damon stars as astronaut Mark Watney who is presumed dead during a manned mission to mars when a broken radio antenna pierces his biometric spacesuit. With his fellow crewmates (some of which include Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara) gone, Mark, who just happens to be a botanist as well as a mechanical engineer, is left to fend for himself as he attempts to ration his limited food supply and navigate through the desolate Martian terrain.
In order to retain his sanity, Mark keeps a video diary explaining the science behind every decision he makes. At times, it’s almost as if that video diary was an audience, an audience too stupid to grasp even the most rudimentary elements of botany or aeronautics and therefore must have their hands held at all times. At any rate, these moments prove to be the most enjoyable elements in “The Martian” partly because of Mark’s uncanny ability to think (or at the very least, duct tape) his way out of dire situations.
But mostly it’s because of Damon who plays Mark with the playful abandon of a man who knows his days are numbered and is enlivened by it, even though Mark is basically a cipher whose personality is defined by the fact that he dislikes disco music. There’s something mildly amusing about a character who can’t stop making references to things like “Happy Days” and “Iron Man” even as the space grim reaper stands by impatiently tapping at his astro-watch.
Too bad that unlike “Gravity” or “All is Lost,” “The Martian” isn’t just about Mark and his Robinson Crusoe-like existence on Mars. “The Martian” is also about Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and other character actors as the NASA crew who are intent on spending billions of dollars to save the life of one man.
It’s fascinating to watch Mark use his own resourcefulness to solve problems but it’s less interesting to see barely defined cardboard characters solve problems by repeatedly browbeating a fat guy into building a rocket in four weeks. Boasting a similar problem that plagues the work of Aaron Sorkin and Joss Wedon, the NASA scenes reveal every character in “The Martian” sounds and acts exactly like Mark.
The scenes set on earth could just as easily be summed up in the email messages Mark receives from NASA. These moments don’t serve much of a purpose beyond pushing this film beyond the two hour mark.
But as bloated and occasionally obvious as this film can be (the use of David Bowie’s “Starman” is egregiously duh-inducing), “The Martian” is still a Ridley Scott film which means, at the very least, it’s very pretty to look at. But unlike “Prometheus,” “The Martian” is more than just ponderous eye candy. At the very least “The Martian” proves that overrated doesn’t automatically mean something is bad. It just means it’s not nearly as good as its rapidly overhyped reputation implies.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara
Director: Ridley Scott
Weekender Rating: WWV