Director Ridley Scott has returned to his rightful place among science-fiction director titans. The Martian—starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, and Chiwetel Eijofor—is about the survival of a single astronaut on Mars as he waits for help 140 million miles away.
This film nails storytelling and tension. While the first 30 or so minutes are rather relaxed (with the exception of a visceral emergency surgery sequence), the rest of the film keeps you at the edge of your seat. Tension is constant throughout; there is never a moment when you feel you can relax. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the running time is completely justified. Half of the story revolves around Mark Watney (Damon) and his struggle for survival. A likeable and almost relatable person, Mark is an incredibly intelligent and gifted scientist. He is funny and always tries to keep a good mood despite the situation he is facing.
The other half of the story deals with everyone who tries to save him. This is actually where the problems start to come in: it feels as though too many characters interject and appear everywhere. The ones who were of particular relevance were Director of NASA Teddy Sanders (Daniels), the captain of Mark’s crew (Chastain), and Director of the mission to Mars Vincent Kapoor (Eijiofor). Each actor tried to portray their respective character, but the casting of Bean and Wiig felt somewhat questionable; their characters had little to no effect in the film and it felt like they could have been played by someone else.
The other big ‘characters’ in this film are Mars and technology. Scott absolutely hits it out of the park with these elements. The cinematography and soundtrack for the planet made it feel vast and empty. The red sand and imposing canyons added to the effect of hostility toward humans. Tracking shot after tracking shot made the entire planet look massive; it was breathtaking at times. Watching this film in 3D actually added a lot to the size of Mars, unlike other 3D movies that tend to take away from the experience by using the 3D format merely as a cheap visual effect. The soundtrack had a subtle ambiance, with eerie sounds that made it feel more alien. Technology in the movie looked like something from sci-fi, combined with technology we already have. Technology in The Martian is as limited yet miraculous as the people engineering it.
This film builds up momentum and never lets go. There was no doubt that everyone in the theater that day was rooting for Mark. I liked this film a lot and honestly it is one of the best out in theaters right now. You have done it again, Scott; I hope this signifies that your future films will succeed.