For a long time I have avoided writing a review on this movie and I don’t think I know why. So now I will. This sci-fi movie based on the Andy Weir novel by the same name is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Matt Damon. This is one of the movies of which I’ve actually read the novel it was based on (after watching the movie), and the movie really does rely on the book and quite frankly has the same strengths and weaknesses as the book. The film has a great screenplay, great visual effects, and a great leading man.
Matt Damon leads the film (and if it were up to me should have hogged more screen time than he actually did). Damon’s performance is dynamic, interesting, and really captures the Castaway vibe. But what I especially enjoyed about Damon’s performance was the range of emotions that he could portray within this same character. Usually you see an actor play an emotion and that’s fine, but Damon showcases this idea of playing a character going through an emotion, that quite frankly seems to be disappearing with big actors playing two or three major roles a year. Damon also plays well into the diary-logs very well and makes what could have been awkward narration into comprehensible and interesting character set-up.
The movie also features a strong supporting cast that includes the crew of his Ares 3 mission made up of Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie. This group of actors works really well together and (just like in the novel) accents Damon well. Most notably though is Michael Pena who really seems to stand out in his role (which by the way is perfectly cast) as he quickly becomes the most likable out of the gang. And least notable is Aksel Hennie who seems to get lost in the cast and simply doesn’t live up to his character in the book who is supposed to be significantly more charismatic. Back on Earth is the NASA employees made up of Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, and Donald Glover. With powerful performances by Daniels and Bean as well as a sober performance by Wiig and a stressfully panicked yet likeable performance by Glover, the movie made the Earth scenes more enjoyable than they should have been.
The visual effects in this movie are really brilliant too though. The final scene is thrilling, the sandstorm is agonizing, and the landscape in the movie is just generally stunning to watch. I have absolutely no idea as to how they did the landscapes, and quite honestly I don’t think I want to know either. It really seems like Scott has sci-fi down to a science and that’s why he can make such technically perfect films like this one. The cinematography also features some outrageously perfectly shot sweeps of landscape as Damon drives his rover around the surface.
The screenplay, by Drew Goddard, too, however, was also pretty gosh darn great. It truly captures the spirit and character of the book it was adapting, and if nothing else it really gets Damon’s character down. The screenplay for this movie also makes the scientifically-charged parts to be even more general-audience-friendly than the book. The thing is though, with a screenplay that really tries to get everything of the book in, it starts to drag. And so did the book. During many of the Earth scenes the viewer sits and practically waits t get back on Mars and there also seems to be an awkward proportion of Ares 3 to Earth, where there seems to be far too few Ares 3 scenes. But the screenplay does manage to squeeze in the best lines and most interesting ideas from the book. The ‘space pirate’, ‘Mars colonization’, and “Science the shit out of it” motifs all made their way into the film.
If you haven’t watched this film yet, why are you reading this? Go watch it now! The film is actually great, thrilling, and fun to watch despite its slight drag and not-so-charismatic Hennie. But at this point I’m really just nit-picking, except for the fact that the Earth scenes were pretty boring. The movie is great, the book is great, everything is great!
Best Aspect- Matt Damon… let’s be real
Worst Aspect- The drag