Movie review: ‘The Martian’ keeps it interesting |

Movie review: ‘The Martian’ keeps it interesting

Matt Damon struggles to find his way home from the Red Planet in "The Martian."
AP | 20th Century Fox


* * *1/2 (A-)

• Directed By Ridley Scott

• Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Mackenzie Davis, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Sebastian Stan, Sam Spruell

• Rated PG-13, Drama, Science Fiction, 141 minutes

As NASA tentatively plans a manned Mars mission 20-something years in the future, author Andy Weir penned his debut novel, “The Martian,” based upon what could go wrong. In his story a killer dust storm threatens to ruin the crew’s launch home.

The situation requires crew members to hustle to their launch craft, leaving Mark Watney, who is hit by flying debris, left for dead on the Red Planet.

Incredibly, Watney, though injured, survives and makes it to the mission’s flimsy habitat shelter — luckily still intact. Taking stock of his supplies, Watney begins a video diary that documents his efforts to cultivate potatoes, repair his damaged communication link with NASA and make preparations to rendezvous with the next Mars mission, due to arrive four years hence.

Portrayed by Matt Damon, Watney is a botanist whose skill set includes chemistry, electronics, mechanics and every possible use of duct tape. He is creative, iron-willed and a master of macabre humor.

The plot functions as an informative treatise on putting your best foot forward under desperate circumstances. Though accomplishing this, the film overlooks our desire to connect with Watney on a deeper level.

Positioned as an everyman, Watney is mildly annoyed when the available music selection turns out to be exclusively disco. Surviving the next six months is an iffy proposition, but tireless Watney is prone to making light of his situation, wasting little time on anger, anxiety or self pity.

Back at NASA’s Houston headquarters, the space program’s image-conscious director Sanders (Jeff Daniels, slows the discovery that Watney is indeed alive because Sanders fears filming an exposed corpse that, with luck, will be buried under red sand within a year.

Chiwetel Ejiofor appears as the mission specialist who realizes nothing is more important, or better publicity for the space program, than marshaling every available resource to rescue Watney.

Not everyone at NASA agrees, so infighting ensues, with Sean Bean’s character making the decisive move that prompts a daring rescue attempt.

Meticulously researched with the advice of NASA scientists, “The Martian” sticks to plausible scenarios and, where yet none exists, to the theoretically possible.

It ought to add up to an exciting film that keeps us glued to our seats. While “The Martian” is never boring, it’s occasionally plodding. Crew members are almost matter of fact concerning the risk associated with its rescue maneuvers.

We don’t feel the astronauts’ hearts pounding, so some externalization of their fear would help humanize the perils bravely confronted by these intrepid adventurers.

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