Review: Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Teaches Us To Never Doubt the Knowledge of a Botanist

Films about space exploration and mishaps in the farthest regions of the galaxy have become a bit of a trend in Hollywood lately. Some of the today’s most acclaimed directors such as Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), and Duncan Jones (Moon) have taken a crack at the genre, so it was only a matter of time before Ridley Scott (Alien) himself gave it a shot. With The Martian, Scott takes a break from the usual science fiction extraterrestrial films he’s known for, and tackles a much more grounded and realistic space adventure story. The result is a captivating film that sports a cast who bring their characters to life, along with a story that is packed in suspense and never offers a dull moment.

The film follows the crew of the Ares III; a team of astronauts who are ready to set back home after their mission to mars. But just prior to leaving, a storm hits leading the crew to believe that one of their members; botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), was killed during the storm. It isn’t until once the Ares III has departed that it is revealed Watney did in fact survive the storm, and has now been left alone to fend for himself on the deserted planet of Mars.
Every time there is a film that follows a person on their own or stranded in a place without any other humans, there’s always a risk that film’s narrative me be boring or not captivating enough for the audience. There’s also a tremendous amount of pressure on whatever actor is playing the title role, as they have to practically carry most of the film on their own. In The Martian’s case, that responsibility falls onto Matt Damon, along with screenwriter Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods). Both Damon and Goddard do a fantastic job at making Watney into an entertaining and relatable character whose eyes we are able to see the film’s events through.
While it may have seemed like the film was going to be two hours of Matt Damon alone on Mars, Scott keeps the audience’s attention but constantly cutting back to what is taking place back on Earth. Watney may be the most developed character in the film, but several other supporting players get their time to shine, and are portrayed fantastically by some familiar faces. Standouts include Jeff Daniels (Newsroom) as the NASA director, Chitwetel Ejoifor (12 Years a Slave) as the man in charge of the Mars mission, and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) as a fellow head employee for NASA. Every character introduced in the film serves a purpose, and adds something extra to the flow of the film’s story. The dialogue between these characters was especially impressive, with some witty remarks reminiscent of that of Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).
But the real stars of the show here are the crew of the Ares III themselves, who all really provide the emotional anchor of the film. While a majority of the film is seen through Watney’s eyes as we experience his emotions, seeing the psychological effects of leaving a crewmember through his fellow astronauts adds an entirely new layer to the film. Michael Pena, Jessica Chastain, and Kate Mara specifically stand out, and share some great scenes alongside each other. Although it would’ve be nice to have had more screen time between these characters and Watney himself prior to them leaving, we’re giving a good idea of their personalities and what their relationships with Watney were like through some great dialogue scenes.
The soundtrack of the film was another surprising standout, and really helped give the film its own identity. The film’s score is definitely a lot more lighthearted than expected for a film about a guy left alone on Mars. This actually suits the movie well, and is a great reflection of Watney’s optimism throughout the story. There is also a great amount of 70s music in the throughout, which is a running gag in film. Those who are fans of disco music will really enjoy it, while those who aren’t will feel Watney’s pain.

In this day and age where space adventure films are a dime a dozen, and each film is trying to reach a further region of space than the last, The Martian is a breathe of fresh air. Everything about the film from its visuals and its beautiful use of colors, the avoidance of clich├ęs, down to the spectacular cast that was assembled all really help it stand out from its predecessors in the genre. The Martian is a return to form for Ridley Scott, as well as another brilliantly acted film led by Matt Damon himself, and is sure to be a contender for an Oscar in visual effects next year. Those who are looking for a grounded space film that isn’t named Star Wars or Star Trek should look no further than this brilliant take on the future of human space travel. 
I give The Martian 4 out of 5 stars:
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