As of this year, legendary director Ridley Scott has made 23 films in less than 40 years, but only less than 10 of those films have been majorly successful and widely praised by critics and audiences. Most of these theatrical hits have one thing in common: science fiction. One could commend Scott for trying not to repeat himself too often, yet it is clear that the man is at his absolute best when dealing with space thrillers ("Alien" and its quasi-prequel "Prometheus") and futuristic tales ("Blade Runner"). For his fourth sci-fi endeavor, Scott turns to adapting Andy Weir's successful book, "The Martian." Commanding an incredible star-studded cast and working with a fantastically fun script by Drew Goddard ("The Cabin in the Woods"), Scott masterfully brings the pages of Weir's book to life in the best possible way. If that wasn't enough, Scott also manages to make this entertaining sci-fi thriller more hilarious than it had any right to be.
On Mars, a team of astronauts is forced to abandon its mission and evacuate the planet due to an extreme storm. In the chaos of the storm, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is soon lost and presumed dead by his crew and everyone back on Earth. However, Watney survives the storm and immediately plans to make contact with NASA and his crew in the hopes of being rescued. He also uses his knowledge as a botanist to grow enough potatoes and make enough water to last as long as possible on the red planet. Meanwhile, NASA and Watney's crew work against the clock to come up with an efficient rescue mission before it is too late.
Rather than spending a good five or ten minutes getting to know Watney and his crew through clever exposition and so on, Scott immediately kickstarts the plot in less than three minutes. The storm hits, Watney is lost but not dead, and Scott is free to get down to business with the story in no time, leaving plenty of room for character development, a few good thrills, and many laughs along the way. This is probably the most fun Scott has had making a film in a long time, and it definitely shows in the performances (particularly Damon's), the editing, and the songs chosen by Scott to play over the film's many montages. I predict that David Bowie and Gloria Gaynor will find their way to more playlists soon after people see this film.
While Scott enjoys himself behind the camera, Damon has just as much fun in front of it. Any other actor might have played Watney a bit more straight-faced or attempted a more stand-up sense of humor, but Damon finds that perfect balance between comedy and drama for his character. He quips from start to finish, but is careful not to let the humor sacrifice the tension. Damon may own the spotlight, but other actors manage to snatch it from time to time. Jessica Chastain ("Interstellar"), Michael Peña ("Ant-Man"), and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") are among the many talents who stand out here. Even Donald Glover (better known as Childish Gambino) squeezes in a few small bits of comedic flair. If there's one collective compliment to be given to the whole cast, then props for making all of the science talk and techno-babble sound so unbelievably captivating.
As with most of Ridley Scott's films, "The Martian" looks beautiful. Nowadays, it's easy to make other planets look gorgeous on camera, but Scott shows off just enough of Mars' exotic landscapes to catch audiences' attention without fully distracting them from the film's compelling drama, something that Scott is so effortlessly good at stirring up non-stop. There's not a single scene in "The Martian" that slows it down or feels out of place, which is comforting to know, considering that the film runs for well over two hours.
Considering how well-made "The Martian" truly is, it is extremely difficult to point out any holes in its system. Ridley Scott stays true to his intention to not repeat himself, but even he manages to find small moments to showcase his strengths. There is one intense sequence near the beginning that will remind some viewers of certain scenes in "Alien" and "Prometheus" a little too much, but thankfully it's not as violent. In all actuality, "The Martian" is something completely unexpected from someone like Ridley Scott. Indeed, it is another fine return to form for the master director, but coupled with an enormous sense of fun that is absent in many of his films, it is also the most ridiculously entertaining blockbuster he has ever made.