Main cast: Matt Damon (Mark Watney), Jessica Chastain (Melissa Lewis), Kristen Wiig (Annie Montrose), Michael Peña (Rick Martinez), Kate Mara (Beth Johanssen), Sebastian Stan (Chris Beck), Aksel Hennie (Alex Vogel), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Vincent Kapoor), Donald Glover (Rich Purnell), Benedict Wong (Bruce Ng), Mackenzie Davis (Mindy Park), Sean Bean (Mitch Henderson), and Jeff Daniels (Theodore “Teddy” Sanders)
Director: Ridley Scott
Set some time in the future, the crew of Ares III have landed on Mars to do their thing – collecting samples and all that. When they have to leave due to an unexpected huge storm, astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a stray flying round metal thing (don’t ask me what that is) and is presumed dead. The rest of the crew, led by Melissa Lewis, reluctantly leave without him. The next day, when the storm abates, hey, Mark isn’t dead after all! The thing is, he’s now stranded and help may come only in four years or so, assuming that he can contact NASA back on Earth. Oh dear.
Fortunately, oxygen isn’t a problem. Neither is gravity, as Ridley Scott thinks that it’d be less distracting for the less intelligent among the mere humans watching this movie (read: budget-cutting move). Water isn’t a problem as well, although, oddly enough, food is. There is only so much food, so Mark will have to figure out something. Fortunately, he’s a botanist, so he can try growing crops out of the potatoes the crew left behind in the dried poo. Mark’s CV may state that he is a botanist, but he is also a super programmer, master engineer, electronics guru, top DIY surgeon, remarkable chemist, construction expert, aeronautics prodigy, expert terrain driver, and more. Serious, dude here is MacGyver on Mars – there is nothing he cannot do or figure out while wisecracking like he’s in a Joss Whedon movie. (Then again, the screenplay is written by Drew Goddard, who is often joined to Mr Whedon’s hip.) The only dramatic moments are failure caused by the mean-spirited geography and meteorology of Mars.
The Martian, therefore, isn’t a particularly compelling movie as the protagonist is rarely allowed to show any vulnerability. He’s always “on” – perky and chirpy despite adversity, so there’s little suspense as to whether he is in any genuine danger at any time. I mean, give him time, and Mark can probably make Coke Zero out of his own urine. Likewise, the remaining crew may all be one-dimensional figures, but they are all so capable and amazing that they can make bombs that are deadlier than normal bombs out of ammonia, baking soda, and such. I think these guys are just one phone call away to Joss Whedon from joining the Avengers in an upcoming movie.
Meanwhile, the techies at NASA are all amazing geniuses, held back only by bureaucrats and PR rats who are, you know, useless as usual.
Yet, despite all the brainpower simply oozing from the cardboard cutouts in this movie, they have to read out loud the things they type on screen. Worse, the person sending would read out loud what he is typing, and the person receiving the message would then read out loud the same thing. Maybe Mr Scott expects the audience of this movie to be primarily slow learners. Also, for some reason, despite the fact that this is a NASA internal problem, people would wave American flags while holding a vigil outside the NASA building. I don’t know what patriotism has to do with this – it’s not like Mark is fighting Martian terrorists to further a greater good or something, I can only suppose that people waving small American flags look good on screen. China comes to the rescue in the end, but this movie treats the Chinese characters in an annoyingly condescending manner, right down to having Americans talking slowly and loudly at the Chinese personnel as if they are all mentally handicapped while the translator does her job, topped with a “Did he get all that?” question that never fails to come off as supremely patronizing.
The Martian is an overrated as can be, but at least it’s still nowhere as pointlessly convoluted and pretentious as Interstellar. Too bad the whole thing is half cliché and half superficial, coming off as shallow as a puddle all around. It’s nice to see Michael Peña playing the same character in so many movies these two years, though. Work that paycheck while the gigs keep coming, dude!