'The Martian' review: Damon anchors ensemble cast in best popcorn flick of 2015
"The Martian" (opening in theaters nationwide Oct. 2) is much more ambitious than the usual "stranded survivor" story. No single word adequately describe what may be the best popcorn flick of 2015 - a smart, funny, harrowing, intense, exciting and joyous movie that is flat-out entertaining.
In short: When astronauts on Mars have to make an emergency escape from the planet, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) falls behind during the escape and he is presumed dead. While Watney's mission commander (Jessica Chastain) leads her crew back home, NASA officials discover Watney is still alive - and scientists all over the world collaborate to find a way to rescue Watney. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Kate Mara and Sean Bean also star. (Watch the trailer)
Damon is absolutely the centerpiece of this sprawling ensemble cast effort. For his part of what is essentially a "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" story, Damon is a one-man show -- not unlike Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" or Sandra Bullock in "Gravity." But unlike Hanks or Bullock, Damon commands a wider-range of emotion as his character confronts setbacks and overcomes obstacles. Watney faces a seemingly endless series of daunting obstacles if he is ever to step foot back on Earth - and Damon's performance allows the audience to share his disappointments and victories. He is the emotional core of "The Martian" -- if Damon had faltered even a little bit, this movie still might have been interesting - but Damon's lighthearted touch keep Watney's ordeal accessible, entertaining and prevents the movie from becoming as grim as it probably should be.
The entire cast deserves recognition for their efforts as an ensemble unit. Although the movie is essentially set in three different locations -- on Mars, on Earth and on the space craft headed back to Earth -- a strong ensemble cast and solid direction ensures "The Martian" tells one complete story: the effort to bring Watney home.
Speaking of direction, "The Martian" represents something of a departure for acclaimed director Ridley Scott - whose early career was established in science fiction ("Blade Runner" and "Alien") but has been more recently defined by underwhelming dramas such as "Exodus: Gods and Kings," "The Counselor" and "Robin Hood." First of all, "The Martian" is fun - while some of Scott's films are great, virtually none can claim to be "fun." "The Martian" stands apart from many previous Scott films due to its endearing and non-pretentious nerdiness, unexpected hilarity and pure joy -- in addition to its share of devastating setbacks that threaten Watney's survival from every angle.
Final verdict: Scott masterfully controls a massive cast in a story set across the solar system to tells a story that is as thrilling as it is funny and at times touching. Leading man Damon anchors this roller-coaster of a thrilling survival drama which will be one of the most fun, all-around entertaining movies of the year.
"The Martian" opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 2 in 2D and 3D formats. This sci-fi adventure is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.