Directed by Ridley Scott | Written by Drew Goddard from a book by Andy Weir | 141 min
Sometimes professionalism is its own reward, and sometimes it isn’t. Ridley Scott is a craftsperson of the highest order, and here he delivers a very well-made film crammed with entertainment, if you can manage to ignore the machinery just underneath the surface.
Matt Damon plays his second stranded astronaut in two years (after Interstellar). When a storm on the Martian surface sweeps Mark Watney away while his mission crew are leaving the planet, he’s presumed dead. Left alone with limited supplies—though, handily, some near-future scifi resources that provide him with endless breathable air—he “sciences the shit out of it,” finding ingenious ways to grow food and stay busy. When NASA clues into his being alive they plan a rescue mission, all while keeping Watney’s crew in the dark as to his disposition. Until they don’t.
As is usual with a Scott feature, it looks spectacular. There’s enough realism in the tech and the FX to make suspending your disbelief a breeze, and Damon is, also as usual, incredibly sympathetic as the loneliest man in the solar system. That he’s supported by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, all performers capable of carrying a feature themselves, enriches the proceedings that much more.
But in this epic tale of survival and perseverance, the workings remain obvious as they click and snap into place. Maybe it’s the no-excuse-for-a-’70s soundtrack that feels like it was ripped off wholesale from Guardians of the Galaxy (and how could they include Bowie’s Starman but omit Life on Mars?), maybe it’s the scenes back on earth resembling an Irwin Allen disaster movie, or maybe it’s just that there’s never really a lot of doubt Watney won’t somehow MacGyver his way off the red planet. The contrivances never quite convince as real jeopardy.
As the film slingshots around for the denoument in orbit over Mars, about 20 minutes later than it should have, there’s still plenty of popcorn ingenuity to admire, though it’s all a little too calculated and predictable to love.
Oh, and incidentally, this is another utterly superfluous 3D experience. See it in 2D if at all possible.