During a manned mission to Mars, mission leader Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) makes the call to evacuate the planet due to a severe storm that hits their base camp. While the crew is making their way to the escape rocket, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from the rest of the crew. Thinking he is dead, the crew leaves without him.
After the storm passes, Watney wakes up alone. Even if he could alert NASA that he is still alive, it would take 4 years before a rescue mission could retrieve him. The shelter was only designed to last 31 days. Even if it were to hold up, he only has the rations sent with the crew for the mission. He would die of starvation well before anyone could get to him.
Fortunately, Watney is a botanist. Determined to find a way to survive against his insurmountable odds, he immediately sets out to see if he can find a way to extend his food supply. After finding out he is still alive, a team from NASA works to find a way to retrieve Watney. Meanwhile, Watney uses his wits to “science the shit” out of his available resources in the hope of surviving on the hostile planet and try to make it back to Earth.
Part Apollo 13, part Castaway, part Gravity, The Martian explores the not-so-unbelievable possibility of a manned mission to Mars and the dangers that astronauts face with each mission.
What The Martian has over Castaway and Gravity is that the protagonist, while being stranded alone, isn’t the only person we see for the majority of the film. We see the team of NASA scientists working nonstop on a rescue mission and Watney’s crew mourning as they make the long journey home without their fellow astronaut. This alleviates some of the monotony you get with the other films.
It also casts Matt Damon as our stranded hero. Not that Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock can’t hold a movie, obviously. But this is probably my favorite Matt Damon film to date. His determination to survive is matched only by his wit. He adds a level of charm and humor in a situation that would cause most to simply give up. The humor is smart and shows exactly the type of personality that could even have a chance at surviving.
The supporting cast holds up the other side of the story. While they don’t get nearly the screen time or character development, they balance out the story. Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, and the rest handle their roles well.
The cinematography is superb. Sweeping Martian landscapes come to life and seem real. The storms are ferocious. You feel stuck, alone on the desolate planet.
Another of the film’s strong points is the believability of the story. The film isn’t simply one disaster after another and the science behind it seems plausible. My only regret is that I did not see the film in IMAX. I can only imagine how much more impressive it would have been.