Review - Matt Mungle
**In theaters October 2, 2015**
Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
Review: THE MARTIAN could be the front runner for film of the year. With that bold statement made and out of the way we can get down to the nitty gritty (as Nacho Libre would say) about why that is true. There will also be redeeming statements made to make up for referencing Nacho in this review.
The film is built off of the best selling novel by Andy Weir of the same name. It starts off looking about as Sci-Fi as any film could. With visuals reminiscent of Gravity and Prometheus it immediately grounds you into the genre. But once the first 10 or 15 minutes have passed you soon realize that this film has few peers, if any, in the space arena. Much of that is attributed to Matt Damon who delivers the role of a lifetime. And he does it without straying too far out of the Matt Damon box.
The story is about Mark Watney (Damon) and even though there are exceptional characters supporting him; the film lives and dies by Watney. Every conversation, decision, and conscious thought is centered around him. So if Matt Damon does not give us an endearing, believable, and screen captivating performance? Then none the rest matters at all. It is important that you get that point. Because this is a fantastic film. One that is hard to find any fault in. And I am not sure that would be the case if not for Matt Damon.
There are countless other things to geek out about in this film. There are three separate stories taking place simultaneously but all working together with perfect balance. There is Watney stranded alone on Mars. There is the NASA team back on Earth trying to figure out if/how to rescue him. Then there is his mission team on their way back to Earth. The left thinking he was dead.
The two stories other than Damon's character each have a powerhouse of acting talent. The NASA team includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Sean Bean. Plus a handful of others who all, regardless if they are in 3 scenes or the majority, give us rich, vibrant characters. The mission team consists of Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, and Kate Mara. And they give off the essence of a true team. You never doubt for a moment that they have spent years together in space.
If you are a science geek then this one will have you sitting on the edge of your Bunsen burner. The attention to detail is also award worthy. The decision to bring in real NASA scientists to authenticate each element pays off in the script and the visual effects. Yet even with all the technical discussions between Watney on Mars and NASA on Earth the audience never feels talked down to or gets lost in the hugeness of it all. It is subtle writing that solidifies the facts and never disengages the viewer. Space is tricky to pull off. Granted there are no on location shoots on Mars. Yet. So it is important to feel like you are there. You do. And at the same time you have a front and center seat at the helm of NASA control watching it all unfold.
Now back to Damon. He spends the biggest portion of the film alone. Watney has been there for years and has to act like a man totally separate from other life forms. He has to keep his head about him and also hang on to his wit and sense of humor. To survive he has to never give up. You get the sense that Watney is behaving as if help is hours away and not years. As if that reasoning is what helps him keep a grip on his sanity. But all the while he is preparing for and accepting the long haul in front of him. His observations and outlook make the movie very entertaining. Damon brings all of those characteristics to life and delivers a solid, believable, and heartfelt performance.
THE MARTIAN is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity. There is nothing in this that is gratuitous or out of character. Every detail is spot on whether in action or speech. If there is an expletive it is because there was no other word that worked better. Same for content. It is completely safe for those 14 and up. I very rarely give perfect scores for a film and normally not more than one or two a year. This one easily gets 5 out of 5 rolls of duct tape. I tried to find something wrong with it but luckily for us there was nothing to be found.