Six astronauts are sent to Mars for the Ares 3 mission -- Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan), Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) and Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Their mission on Mars was supposed to last 31 sols (Mars days), but on the 18th sol, a huge storm blows in, forcing them to abort their mission. During their escape, they lose one of their men; the lowest ranking, the botanist, Mark Watney.
In any other space movie, this would just be the first casualty of probably many (with six people, you have plenty to spare) but this cheeky lighthearted botanist doesn't get the memo: he wakes up on Mars, alone, with an antennae stuck in his gut, and decides that he's going to live. On Mars. With limited food. In a Hab meant to last 31 days. For 4 years. Until the next Ares mission will come, and he can hitch a ride home. How? Science.
|The coolest interplanetary scientist on the planet.|
Okay, I just have to say one thing before I can fully concentrate on this movie: The book was better. And once you finish reading this review you'll know that I say that only to emphasize how remarkably, incredibly amazing the book is, not to say that this movie is in any way lacking. Because it's not. Anyway, with books, you can't include an awesome soundtrack!
This story's greatness comes mainly from its stranded hero, Mark Watney. In spite of his nearly hopeless situation, he stays optimistic, and works determinedly to solve the daunting problems in his way with a cheerful attitude. This creates a lot more humor than one would really expect out of a space survival movie, and Matt Damon is the ideal person to play this endearing every-man and unconventional hero. The ability to become a person who can crack a joke while losing a staring contest with death isn't really definable by what one would normally call "talent" -- it's a quality that you either have, or you don't. Well, Matt has it.
|He's the same from beginning to end, never going through a "heroic journey" or any character change at all. It's unusual. I love it.|
Damon fills the personality of the lonely Martian comic perfectly, and then puts his talented efforts into portraying the serious and intense drama realistically. Charm isn't something that Damon's characters ever really lack, so it's no surprise Watney has that, but the level of vulnerability we see in him is less expected. If you don't absolutely adore this character after the first 30 minutes, you have a heart of stone. Rooting for a hero with complete abandon has never been so effortless and inviting.
He may be the lone man on Mars, but he is certainly not alone in the movie. The rest of the crew mentioned above all have their part and do their share. Particularly outstanding is Chastain as the ship's commander. She gives a deep and elegant performance. I also just really love Michael Peña. He always keeps thing up-beat and interesting. I wished to see more of Stan's doctor Beck, but when you're the strong and silent type, that just how it goes. Hennie's German scientist keeps up with the bigger names easily, and Mara hits the mark for the geeky and kinda weird cute girl.
|You're awesome, you're awesome... you're ALL awesome!! Sadly Michael Peña is absent in this photo. Michael, you're awesome.|
On Earth we have another cast, and another story line, as NASA does their part to bring Watney home alive as well. There, we have Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the head of the Mars missions, Sean Bean as the Ares flight director, Kristen Wiig as NASA's media relations, plus Donald Glover, and Mackenzie Davis. These guys almost split their screen time with Damon, and while none of them come close to having the captivating charm of his Watney, they all do a great and commendable job. Standouts here are Ejiofor, who comes across effortlessly, and controls the screen while he's on it, and Glover who's just... unexpected.
|And you, sir, are a steely-eyed missile man.|
Fact: space movies are better with a soundtrack from the 70's. This movie uses that knowledge to full advantage, by including several musical working-montages, that are, to be perfectly blunt, epic. This really is the one thing the movie could do that the book couldn't, and it was beautiful, and sometimes very funny, and beautiful. In fact this whole story is a balance of beautiful and funny. The comedy comes too often and is way too unique and funny to be classified as just comic relief, and in the hands of Ridley Scott, the look of the film is consistently breathtakingly gorgeous, and beautifully foreboding. It gets every bit as edge-of-your-seat intense and despairingly emotional as you'd expect from such a hardcore survival adventure, but remembers to give us plenty of relief too -- via wit and fun and grandeur and many glorious moments of triumph against the odds.
|Starman, waiting in the sky....|
Adaption-wise, there was a lot that was word-for-word the same, and there were some changes; some that I expected and some that I didn't.
I was wowed by the visual feats and impressed by the practiced, involving film-making. I had tons of fun listening to the musical montages and Watney make sarcastic quips with all that Matt Damon charm. And the fact that most of the film is scientifically viable is endlessly impressive. Those things all make a good, enjoyable movie, but this achieved greater heights than that. I don't abandon my cynicism and reserve while watching movies lightly, but here I willingly fell head over heels, because I found something that was worthy of investing my cares in. A genuine, everyday, unlikely fictional hero set in a story that is designed to sincerely engage and inspire us through him.
|The all natural, organic, Martian-grown potato farmer.|
On Mars. To the tune of David Bowie. And ABBA. With science!