“I’m pretty much fucked.”
This is the first line in Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian, but it might as well have been the words uttered by director Ridley Scott after his 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings was released. Exodus did end up making its money back (assuming the marketing budget wasn’t astronomical- which it might have been) but it’s 27% on Rotten Tomatoes (RT) was just another film in the laundry list of terrible Ridley Scott films that he’s made within the past 15 years. Ridley Scott will be remembered as an all-time great director thanks to Bladerunner, Alien, and Gladiator, but since the release of 2001’s Black Hawk Down, Scott has made a lot of terrible films including 2013’s The Counselor (35% on RT), 2010’s Robin Hood (43% on RT), 2008’s Body of Lies (54% on RT), 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven (39% on RT), 2006’s A Good Year (25% on RT), and 2012’s Prometheus (which I don’t care what RT says about this one, this was a huge disappointment among all Ridley Scott fans and fans of the Alien franchise). Certainly Scott has made some good films including 2003’s Matchstick Men and 2007’s American Gangster, but the perception on Ridley Scott as recently as the summer of 2015 was that this was a man who seemingly forgot how to direct.
As of this writing, The Martian currently has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I don’t necessarily think the film is 93% good (I understand how RT works and how they generate their score, but generally speaking, the percentage a film gets tends to be how good the film is), it does have that Steven Spielberg-esque quality to it where its good and inoffensive to the masses, so it’s difficult finding a person who doesn’t like the film. The quality of the film is immensely helped by the straightforward and engaging story thanks to Wier and the script by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, Daredevil- the TV show, not the movie).
The plot of The Martian is a simple one, and one I’m sure you already know if you’ve watched television within the past three months. After a NASA mission to Mars goes wrong, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally gets left behind and is stranded on the Red Planet and everyone works really, really hard to save him. Despite the large cast (Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, & Donald Glover just to name a few), every scene works succinctly to advance the plot and to drive the action to create an engaging and entertaining film. This concept seems simple enough (at least to me), yet it has been missing from many of Scott’s previous works and the lack thereof helped contribute to his duds.
The Martian also mainly works because Matt Damon is an affable and likable star. The vast majority of the action revolves around Damon talking to the camera, and you need the audience to care about Mark Watney otherwise the entire film falls apart. The Martian is also funny and upbeat, and is ultimately about the resilience of the human spirit. For a film about a guy hopelessly trapped on a desolate planet, it is surprisingly uplifting. Matt Damon, for all of his recent asshole-ness off of the screen, is a guy you can root for and enjoy his company on the screen.
The Martian also does a lot of other things very well. The editing is superb as we cut between Earth and Mars and a space station seamlessly, the disco soundtrack is not only funny and will most likely earn a nomination on my fake (but should be real) Best Soundtrack list, but it adds depth to the film, and I enjoyed the special effects as it complimented the film as opposed to over-powering it.
Ultimately, The Martian works because Ridley Scott was able to go back-to-basics. He showed that he has not lost his creative vision just yet, and like the themes of the film itself, I’m hopeful for the future that Ridley Scott will bring us good movies like The Martian.
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