‘The Martian’ may strand its lead, but thrills its audiences

Ridley Scott is a name synonymous with the science-fiction genre, creating big hits such as “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Prometheus.” After the disappointments of his last two films, “The Counselor” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Scott returns to true form with his latest release, “The Martian.”

As a devastating storm approaches their camp and shuttle, the Ares III manned mission on Mars must evacuate before their shuttle is destroyed, but as they try to leave, one of the astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is hit by debris and presumed dead. Having survived the storm, he must find a way to make contact with NASA and survive on Mars until the next mission can rescue him.

The plot, while predictable, is actually fairly original and has a lot of smart plot points. Audiences get to see Watney use some incredible intellect to keep himself alive on the desolate planet, whether it be using his and his crew member’s bagged-up excrement for fertilizer or digging up a large canister of plutonium to keep himself warm in his rover.

In addition to his smarts, Watney has an incredible sense of wit and dark humor, and thanks to an excellent script from writer Drew Goddard (“Daredevil,” “The Cabin in the Woods“), audiences get to stay emotionally connected to the marooned astronaut as he tries to make light of his situation. Goddard adapted the screenplay from the 2011 best-selling novel of the same name written by Andy Weir.

Among all the jokes, the greatest moment that many might not realize is humor is the first of two F-bombs dropped in the film. As screenwriter Goddard previously mentioned in an interview with HitFlix, he wanted the first one to “balance out” the intense opening, as a sort of way to tell audiences it’s okay to laugh, and it’s certainly conveyed here.

Aside from the humor, the film’s suspense is solid and almost non-stop, as we, as an audience, fear for Mark’s life every second, knowing that any little thing could go wrong and kill him. Even as the perspective of those down on Earth is shown, we still get the sense of impending doom and how imperative it is to figure out how to save Watney.

The visual effects in “The Martian” are astonishing, using the Hungarian desert perfectly as a sort of placeholder for the Red Planet, as well as creating a true sense of isolation for Watney. The space effects were also great, creating chaos in what feels like mostly accurate scenarios.

The performances themselves are very good, especially Damon as Watney. He commands the camera’s presence as he creates a video diary for those that find him dead, or for future reference for similar situations. He brings a great wit and dry humor to his character, as well as delivering a solid serious performance when it’s required.

The supporting cast all do a great job as well, the standouts being Jessica Chastain as the Ares III commander Melissa Lewis and Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA mission director Vincent Kapoor. They both bring so much intensity to their characters and their goal of bringing Watney back alive.

Overall, “The Martian” is sure to stand out as one of 2015’s best films, and earns that ranking by far thanks to incredible pacing, great humor, and thrilling direction.