Matt Damon delivers out-of-this-world performance in "The Martian"

The Martian (20th Century Fox)

The Martian
4 out of 5 Stars
Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.
Recommended To: Anyone looking for an enjoyable sci-fi film with a surprising amount of humor.

Synopsis: Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind on Mars when his crew believes he has died when a massive storm forces them to cut their mission short and evacuate the planet. Stranded with no clear way to communicate with Earth, Watney must use his ingenuity to survive.

Review: I consider Ridley Scott to be one of my favorite directors, but his most recent efforts, Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Counselor, were arguably the weakest of his career. The Martian is a majestic triumph; it is Scott's best film in the last ten years. It is high-minded science fiction with a surprising wealth of humor to go along with a terrific cast, wondrous visuals and a script from Drew Goddard that greatly improves upon its source material.

While many, based on the trailer and presence of Damon and Jessica Chastain, have compared The Martian to Interstellar (which I loved), the films have very little in common beyond the fact that they take place in space. Most notably is the tone, which is never as weighty. In many ways The Martian is more direct as it rarely strays into philosophical realms. It prefers to keep its focus on the immediate now and the fate of one man, rather than the possible end of mankind. This is interesting because at least two of Scott's sci-fi excursions, Blade Runner and Prometheus, featured their share of the intellectual wanderings that Christopher Nolan included in his film.

Still, to dismiss The Martian as something less than intelligent would be inaccurate. The film doesn't go to the same lengths as the novel to establish its basis in scientific fact, but it does present itself as something completely possible, which is a fascinating and wonderful form of science fiction. There are a few bits in the final act that I'm not entirely convinced are possible, but I've never claimed to be science smart (as reflected by my various grades in fact, rather than theory or creative, based studies).

Now if Damon could stop putting his foot in his mouth in interviews we could focus on how engaging he is in the role of Mark Watney and how his co-stars like Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pea, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie and Chiwetel Ejiofor are collectively brilliant and subversively diverse without sacrificing credibility.

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