First things first- to enjoy The Martian, you have to separate it from Interstellar. Forget about the shared cast members and space cinematography. We aren’t supposed to despise Matt Damon here, and he’s not out for revenge on Matthew McConaughey’s daughter. However, it is another sci-fi storytelling and visual treat with an almost-too-large cast.
Matt Damon carries the movie, which is good because he’s the bulk of it. It’s easy to cheer him on through his optimism, ingenuity, and sarcastic humor in the face of overwhelming odds. He’s supported by a talent-filled cast who are criminally underused, due to there being so many of them. But it was fun to see Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Jeff Daniels in the same film. During the Earth scenes, I regularly forgot who had what title (besides the head of NASA), but luckily it didn’t really seem to matter. That pleasant feature can be said for much of the movie- most of us won’t understand all the science babble all the actors spout out (it’s not like they really get it either), but the story doesn’t demand we do to enjoy it.
As I mentioned, the effects and scenery are gorgeous and approach the beauty of last year’s space blockbuster Interstellar. The rugged, hostile beauty of Mars contrasts perfectly with the corporate, structured box of NASA. Come to think of it, practically everything contrasted between those two settings- Mars had Damon, while NASA had what felt like a dozen characters, plus background workers. The only real bridge between the two were the clever uses of models of the rover and explorer that NASA brought for hands-on research.
Any drawbacks were due more to personal taste for me- I basically squinted the entire scene where Damon un-impales himself because I’m squeamish. But dang, that scene was detailed, unflinching, and a bit long for my side. We get it, doctoring yourself on Mars is bloody and sucks, ok?! The other drawback I had was the soundtrack didn’t stand out in any way, at least compared to other space movies that seemed to catch the wonder of space with music (Gravity, Interstellar) . This isn’t a huge deal, since some would argue that the best soundtrack props up the movie without standing out and getting in the way (I would disagree though).
Side note here, but that whole Project Elrond bit was comedic gold for those inside the joke.Sean Bean and The Secret Meeting caused my theater to erupt in laughter (yay fantasy nerds!). Surprisingly, this whole scene almost didn’t make it into the final cut, but a higher-up in the studio liked it so much he demanded it be kept. Weird, a demand from the studio that actually improves the movie, right? Anyway, The Martian is a tense but entertaining ride through the unknown, and it looks great on the big screen.