Aside from Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s films don’t excite me. So, it should come as no surprise that The Martian didn’t do it for me, either. I didn’t hate it, but I definitely found it lacking. It aims for blockbuster status, which it achieved—good for it. Like far too many blockbusters, though, The Martian is an average Hollywood film at best.
Matt Damon stars as botanist/astronaut Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III mission to Mars. To Scott’s credit, he gets right down to business from the very first scene: while the crew is collecting soil samples, a violent dust storm kicks up out of nowhere and knocks down a sattellite (or something). Watney is struck with debris and pushed out of sight. His crew mates take him for dead. He’s not, we learn once the dust settles (no pun intended) and Ares has already left Mars.
Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name—which I didn’t read—the story seems to lend itself naturally to drama, suspense, and action. Somehow, The Martian is oddly low on all three until the last half hour or so. The story moves along and Watney faces his share of obstacles, none of which are a surprise. He approaches them all with a MacGyver-like ingenuity (duct tape literally does fix anything). I won’t ruin the ending, but all it got out of me was a shrug. Eh.
Mars to Houston: what is Kristen Wiig doing in this movie? I laud her efforts to expand her horizons, but she’s not there yet. She can’t do drama. She sticks out like a sixth finger.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, The Martian has its positive aspects. The shots on Mars (actually Jordan) are realistic and downright stunning. Damon is excellent: he single-handedly saves The Martian from slipping into a black hole. Good thing, because the success of the entire script rests on his shoulders. He gives Watney sympathy and relatability. I like his character. His constant talking to himself to act as narrator easily could have gone south fast but he makes it work almost unnoticeably. To lighten the tone, he adds a believable sense of humor that I didn’t expect considering the plot. I now understand the Golden Globe “best actor in a comedy” thing. The disco hits are a nice touch that effectively augments this subtle comic relief. Overall, though, I expected something a lot more interesting.