“I’m going to have the science the shit out of this.”
That line of dialogue is the reason I didn’t see this Ridley Scott directed epic space movie in theaters. About a year before it was released my friend sent me a link to the IMDB page for The Martian with the caption “that cast.” A space movie directed by Ridley Scott staring Matt Damon (The Departed, Saving Private Ryan, The Informant, True Grit, Interstellar), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless, A Most Violent Year, Interstellar), Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, Looper, The Newsroom), Kate Mara (Shooter), Michael Pena (Shooter, End of Watch), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Four Brothers, American Gangster, Salt), Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, and Benedict Wong (Sunshine, Prometheus) definitely had my attention.
Then the ads started airing for the movie. The snarky egotistical millennial phrase spouting astronaut was a massive turn off.
I understand that the screenplay written by Drew Goddard (Lost, The Cabin in the Woods, World War Z) is an adaptation of the popular book written by Andy Weir, so I should be blaming Weir for the awful main character Mark Watney. Matt Damon was good in his portrayal of the character, but his performance is moot as the character is unbearable,.
The movie starts with the jovial crew of Ares III taking samples and doing scientist stuff on the surface of Mars. A massive dust storm bum rushed the crew who scurried to escape the weather in the ascent vehicle. In the chaos, botanist Mark Watney was struck by an antenna and thrown into the storm. In a panic the rest of the crew went aboard the ship and left on the orders of Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) assuming Watney was dead.
They abandoned their work and left Mars to go back to their space ship Hermes. The storm that came out of nowhere (which I find hard to believe they couldn’t pick it up on their radar) was at risk of toppling the ascent vehicle which would leave the entire crew deserted on Mars. I find the inability to see the storm and to design an ascent vehicle that doesn’t topple over in crazy winds unbelievable.
It was announced to the world that the Ares III crew was on its way back to earth and that Mark Watney died on Mars. Of course Watney survived and he began planning out his survival strategy. NASA discovered he was still alive, began communicating with him, and went through the bureaucratic politics in setting up a rescue attempt.
The movie looks amazing and is well made. Ridley Scott is a legendary director and one of the best at making space movies. If only he could pair up with a writer and story that is worthy of his skills.
Every 10 minutes or so I would forget about the dumb one liners from the snarky Watney and begin to enjoy the movie and the cool plot of surviving on a lifeless planet. Then I would get slapped across the face with a line like “fuck Mars,” and “Mars will come to fear my botany powers.”
All of the other characters are fine minus the cameo appearance of Donald Glover (I don’t think he is a good actor) playing another millennial scientist who thinks up the plan that saves Watney. The behind the scene politics between the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels), public relations (Kristen Wiig), and high ranking NASA executives (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean) was fun to watch.
Regardless of how many times I cringe during a movie, if the climactic scene is done well, my opinions of the movie normally remain positive. The rescue attempt scene is intense and incredible. That scene alone makes it worth enduring the unlikeable main character.
The Martian is Hollywood as fuck. It maintains a lot of the likeable elements of space movies but it also incorporates the pukey Hollywood heartwarming tropes. This movie is designed to appeal to your Grandma who watches two movies a year just as much as it is designed to appeal to space movie fans. Two scenes in particular stood out to me as being over the top Hollywood schlock.
After Watney digs himself out of the dune he was buried in and return back to the main site, he bandaged up his wound and began planning his survival. When he packed up the things of his crew that were left behind, he came across the lap top of Lewis. The lap top was open and on with a picture of the crew on the main screen which lead to Watney somberly closing the lap top. Why the fuck would Lewis just randomly be looking at a picture of the smiling crew together and leave that picture up with her lap top still on before doing her daily tasks? Also, did Watney not bring any of his own music? He complained the entire movie about listening to Lewis’s disco music but at least she brought some entertainment.
Later in the movie the NASA executives had to decide between two plans with “a high chance of killing one person or a low chance of killing 6 people” which is so helpfully said out loud by Benedict Wong. Should they try and send supplies to Watney and hope he doesn’t die or should they turn the Ares III crew around and have them rescue him much sooner?
The logical decision is obvious, let the crew come home and hope Watney survives long enough for supplies to arrive and design a ascent vehicle that doesn’t blow over in sand storms. There was also an argument over the idea of notifying the crew who was returning home to Earth about the survival of Watney. Again, the logical and only right answer is to not tell them as they need to focus on their grueling 10 month journey home.
Instead Watney gets angry when he learns the crew wasn’t notified of his survival, and Sean Bean secretly tells the crew they should override the controls of the ship and return to Mars to save Watney, against the direct orders of the director of NASA. Both of these situations are fabricated Hollywood (and I guess fiction writing) conflict to make an interesting, but unrealistic story. The loyalty between the crew members and the human element shoved into the situation was supposed to be heartfelt, instead I felt angry that such expensive and risky methods were used to save one prick who knows how to grow plants.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some water pool up on the sides of my eyes when people from around the world cheered when Kate Mara said “we got him.” The buildup, even if it was filled with lines like “commander, let’s go Ironman,” and “I colonized Mars, in your face Neil Armstrong,” set up the tense climatic scene which left me rooting for the rescue of Watney.
As Watney stood in the middle of a class room telling his story several years later I began to think, “maybe I am being too hard on this movie.” Those feelings quickly dissipated with the start of the epilogue montage. Shots of people around the world watching the successful lift off of the Ares V Mars mission were played with the song, “people all over the world, join hands, start a love train.” Zack Snyder levels of subtlety.
I didn’t like The Martian. It is well made but way too reliant on a crappy main character (which most people adored and earned the movie a Golden Globe award for best comedy or musical). The most important scene of the movie was executed perfectly which is the only thing preventing me from outwardly hating it.