The Martian is mainly concerned with being entertaining, with using humor to combat the desperation that might accompany an extended stay on a paradise like Mars. There’s a lightheartedness that pervades the entire movie, and although that does weaken some of the bigger emotional moments, it’s still a fun change of tone after intense films like Gravity and Interstellar (both of which are superior, by the way). This is a celebration of human intelligence, of cooperation and a can-do attitude. What’s refreshing about it is that it’s not dominated by contrived suspense sequences that are the results of infuriatingly dumb character decisions. These people know what they’re doing, perhaps even too well. Mark Watney in particular makes surviving on Mars look like a stroll through the park, but then again, that’s part of the charm of the movie.
Not all of the humor works out, but it’s a very important aspect of the experience. Matt Damon is never not entertaining throughout, and he understands exactly what the role calls for in terms of balancing tone. Whether he’s dancing to “Hot Stuff” or science-ing the shit out of Mars or feeling the impact of his isolation, he makes up for an otherwise weak group of characters who serve as nothing more than faces in a crowd. Yeah, rah rah teamwork, but when you’ve got the likes of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, and more in your cast, you’d be better served actually focusing on and developing characters.
Of course, Scott and co. aren’t really going for character or theme. They’re all about the fun in this journey, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. When the fun doesn’t really feel like it coheres with anything in the end, though, we’re left with a movie that never quite gets going before it’s over. Nevertheless, it’s worth enjoying while it lasts. Mark Watney and his potatoes make sure of that.
-GIVE JESSICA CHASTAIN MORE TO DO.
-Dariusz Wolski uses the valleys of Jordan here to form his Mars filming foundation. He does a solid job, although I’m still more excited to see what another Darius–Khondji–does next.
-There’s a Lord of the Rings joke in this movie that’s definitely funny.
Photo credit: The Martian, Scott Free Productions