"In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option: I'm gonna have to science the s--t out of this."
On Mars, Mark Watney doesn't exactly have the option to set up a signal fire, hunt for food, or collect rainwater. The simple act of continuing to live and breathe requires genius-level intellect and determination. At any moment, Watney could die a sudden and violent death.
"If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the hab breaches, I'll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death."
And so, science the s--t out of it, he does.
Mark Watney is delightful as a protagonist, being the sort of everyman with just enough genius and nerdiness to be relatable. He's generally calm, cool, and extraordinarily resourceful without being pompous. Even in his darkest moments, Watney never caves to despair, but clings to his will to live with determined ferocity, padded with sarcasm. Indeed, hope itself is Watney's cruelest and yet most valuable resource, never allowing him the resigned release of giving up. The inhospitable planet constantly reminds Watney that the smallest thing going wrong could end his life abruptly, unceremoniously, and unknown, yet he keeps a remarkably steady outlook on his dire situation, punctuating his moments of genius with humor and self-aggrandizing wisecracks.
Matt Damon portrays Watney with seamless ease, his dialogue seeming to be effortlessly dictated by Damon's own whims. Watney has an appealing sort of magnetism driven by his off-handed humorous pondering, his ingenuity, and his optimistic tenacity to survive. With no one for company and no entertainment except the music and TV shows that the crew left behind on their laptops, Watney keeps video logs to discuss his plans, his efforts, his failures, and his opinion of disco music. These video logs work as an excellent narrative and comedic device, providing both explanation for Watney's ideas and action, as well as giving some buoyancy to the peril of Watney's situation.
Off Mars, the crew of the Hermes demonstrates unflinching loyalty and selflessness to one another and to Watney. Back at NASA, most of the folks on the ground are tirelessly dedicated to rescuing Watney from Mars, in some cases well overstepping boundaries to ensure that it happens. Every character onscreen is perfectly cast in their respective roles, turning out a movie that simply overflows with character and personality, even in its more somber moments. Even barely-featured characters have a clearly established individual presence that brings extra life to the story.
Ridley Scott's sensitive touch on this film, a noted departure from his sometimes heavy-handed epic styles, is a breath of fresh air that at times causes your heart to pound. The sweeping landscapes of Mars and the vastness of space are beautiful, but appropriately serve as backdrops to the real story. The Martian is a Robinson Crusoe story about survival that just happens to be in space, and less about space itself like Gravity or Interstellar. The Martian still maintains a scope of grandeur that doesn't celebrate itself, but rather guilds the perfect performances of its actors. Scott does an excellent job of balancing the movie with tension, tenderness, and comedy, while still keeping a steady course.
The Martian is the kind of movie that almost anyone should be able to enjoy. With excellent acting, beautiful music, perfect directing, captivating writing, and plenty of comedy and suspense, The Martian is quite simply, a movie that excels in almost every area. Very shortly into Mark Watney's exile, the audience is already rooting for him right to the end, hoping with the rest of the world onscreen that NASA can bring him home. Matt Damon's sterling performance makes this journey one well worth traveling.