Ah the elusive Matt Damon failed to elude my grasp forever! I asked five people to see this movie and all of them had similar “I despise Matt Damon” responses to the question. So I had pretty much given up on it at that point, but I finally found a willing soul a month later. I’m something of a Ridley Scott aficionado and this film is likely his best in over a decade; though many of his others have been conceptually interesting at the very least.
This is of course your requisite Gravity/Interstellar Space and “Science” movie for the year but it falls somewhere in-between on the scale of absurdity. Interstellar has been praised for being relatively grounded in actual science, which isn’t surprising given the meticulous detail of one Christopher Nolan; and Gravity on the other hand has been disparaged for being totally implausible. I don’t know where actual Scientists stand on the Martian but for the most part it isn’t strictly a series of improbable events. It seemed believable, though perhaps optimistic for a variety of reasons.
Yes this film is a happy one believe it or not, happy films (that aren’t asinine) are all too rare so I’m glad to have been able to see it while it was still relevant. I don’t think it is quite as intelligent as Mr. Holmes as far as the expansive “Happy, Smart” genre goes but it does move the plot along with relative efficiency without being overly insulting to the audience. At one point I was sure the film was going to drag as they justified a potentially confusing decision for 5 minutes and they just immediately moved on to the next part of the film, to my pleasant surprise.
The movie does however have a shitload of “stock” characters; actually I think every single character in the film is a stereotype other than Matt Damon (who’s just a short brown haired guy protagonist of course). This is something that happens in almost every movie of course, but for an exclusively excellent film to do it is a little perturbing. The optimism of the film clashes with the bleak presentation of over a dozen typifications of humanity.
However despite these issues I still felt almost the entire cast was excellent and they played their roles quite admirably. Matt Damon’s character (Watney) is played humorously, which takes the edge off the solitude and loneliness of Mars; it would have been very easy to make a depressing or tiring character but instead we have an entertaining one. Damon himself plays the role quite well as he tends to in less serious movies; he is certainly not as inordinately offensive as he was in Interstellar; and instead of despising him at the end of the movie you’re just happy you were able to witness his incredible Botany Powers manifest.
Overall I think this movie is just about dead even with Sicario for the third best film of the year; haven’t really decided which one I like more. Sicario is on the outside looking in as far as Oscar nominations go and the Martian will sail to a Gravity-like dozen or so nominations; but as far as actual valuations of movies go it’s hard to say. I think it just depends on your personal preference; a happy elaborate yet simple movie or a brutal, complicated movie with an at best ambiguous message. As always naught will touch Mad Max (which may actually be in Oscar contention) come year’s end.