‘The Martian’ review: ‘Cast Away’ meets ‘Apollo 13’ on Mars, but funnier

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'The Martian' review: Matt Damon is stranded and alone on Mars in The Martian
Matt Damon is stranded and alone on Mars in The Martian

Movie synopsis

During the emergency evacuation of the Ares 3 mission from Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from his team, thought to be dead and left behind. Now he must use every bit of ingenuity he has to survive alone on Mars, while the world watches with bated breath as NASA races against time to figure out how to rescue him. Based on the wildly popular bestseller of the same name by Andy Weir.

The Martian review in a nutshell

A hopeful, humorous film about a brilliant and inventive scientist MacGyvering his survival on Mars against all odds, while back on Earth, mankind works together to save one of their own.

Would I recommend you watch it?

Yes. Unless for some reason, you don’t like to watch movies set in space, or hopeful films.

Click here to jump to the bottom for where you can watch The Martian.

Otherwise, continue reading for a full, spoiler-filled review.

Full review of The Martian (with some spoilers)

I just saw The Martian last night and I desperately want people to watch it, so I’m posting a quick review of the film first. It’s a movie about growing potatoes on a space station in Mars with human fertiliser and eating them (baked, with ketchup, salt and pepper).

I’m kidding, that’s not what the movie is about. (Though my urge to eat potatoes after it was very real.) What it is is an against-the-odds-survival-tale-cum-human-drama-cum-rescue-mission, where, like the rest of the world watching in the film, you can’t help but root for astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) to do the impossible — survive on Mars by “scienc[ing] the shit out of it”, and come home safely at the end.

Matt Damon has such a down-to-earth “everyman” look about him that he fits the role of Watney perfectly. (In contrast, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway looked like movie stars playing astronauts in Interstellar. Ditto with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in Gravity.) At first, he thinks he’s going to die, when his crew accidentally strands him alone on Mars, believing he was killed in the sandstorm they evacuated the planet for.

Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie are the crew of the Ares 3 in The Martian
Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie are the crew of the Ares 3 in The Martian

However, after two days, he decides he won’t resign himself to his fate, and so he catalogues all his problems methodically and goes about solving them one by one with science. (Some of his failed experiments are wince-inducing, though funny in the “at least he didn’t die!” way.) He sets up a running commentary by vlogging his daily exploits and retains his sense of humour in the face of his difficulties — and that is what makes him especially likable. How can you not, when a man, whom despite facing insurmountable obstacles, finds smart ways around them instead of wallowing in the depths of despair?

Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian
Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian

The ensemble cast make up the human-drama-cum-rescue mission rest of the film as they work together to find ways and means to bring Watney home. While a little one-note (because they all play variations of focused, “we-want-this-to-work” task-solvers), the distinguished actors, which include Jeff Daniels as the Director of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Director of Mars Missions, Kristen Wiig as the Director of Media Relations and Sean Bean as the Hermes Flight Director (the space shuttle that the rest of Watney’s crew evacuated to and are on their way home on) make even these characters enjoyable to watch.

Also, there’s a sly reference to The Lord of the Rings inserted in a scene that Sean Bean, who played Boromir in those films, is in. I wanted to squeal with joy in that moment.

The final rescue, when it takes place, is full of intense thrills too. There’s a nod to Iron Man and floating scenes in space that remind me of Gravity (with a happy ending). When the rescue successfully concluded, I heard someone clapping in the theatre, though it ended quickly, as though the person suddenly remembered he wasn’t watching it for real.

The Martian shares similarities with human drama news stories which gain worldwide media attention, like the Chilean mine collapse and the miners trapped underground (also coming to cinemas soon in a movie called The 33), which is why it resonates deeper than most other action blockbusters. Most people have sympathy towards fellow humans in danger and want to see them out of it. The movie portrays its ideal of this goodwill towards other people’s well-being by having the US and Chinese space agencies cooperate with each other to bring Mark Watney home, even though China would lose an important development in their space programme. (Whether this will happen in real life is a different question, but anything can happen in movies and in books.)

And that’s what this movie is celebrating: the tenacity, inventiveness and compassion of the human race. It’s so optimistic, uplifting and surprisingly funny, especially for a premise that could have been very dark, that it’s no wonder critics are raving about it. Definitely Ridley Scott’s best film of the decade.

Ridley Scott directing Matt Damon on the set of The Martian in Jordan
Ridley Scott directing Matt Damon on the set of The Martian in Jordan

Where to watch The Martian

Streaming services: The Martian is on Netflix Singapore, but not Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

Where to watch the Extended Edition

You can also rent or buy The Martian Extended Edition, which includes 10 more minutes of footage and nine new scenes. There’re also two deleted scenes that weren’t restored to the film. While some of these missing scenes give more insight to the characters or to other scenes in the movie, it seems that they were taken out of the theatrical release for the right reasons to tighten up the pacing.

Streaming services: The Martian Extended Edition is a home video exclusive, and not available on any streaming services.

Rent/Buy: Get it on Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

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