The Martian is fine. It’s fine. Just fine. It’s not the movie’s fault that I am quite hardened and like a darker, grittier, more unpleasant movie-going experience. But, as I have said to many people already on this topic, it is good to see movies I can recommend to normal people.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is… The Martian. He is an astronaut and through no real fault of the rest of the crew on his spaceship, he gets left behind on Mars (presumed dead). Turns out, he’s not dead! And you don’t get to Mars without being quite smart and more than a little resourceful, so he starts to figure out how to sustain his own life until someone can come back and get him (to repeat a joke from the interwebs, between Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar, and The Martian, we sure have spent a heck of a lot of money and effort rescuing Matt Damon).
He does eventually make contact with NASA, so then they’re working on how to get a ship or a probe or anything to him, and he’s busy farming potatoes and having occasional setbacks, but largely thriving.
The “occasional setbacks” is where I start to run into problems. For a movie whose premise is that a human is left alone on an entire uninhabitable planet, the stakes feel remarkably low. I was never quite sure when something was going to be a real problem, because everything seemed to just kind of work. Need food, need water? Well, fortunately thing a, thing b, and thing c. Solved. Easy peasy. I guess? You’re waiting for something to go seriously wrong and for him to have to surmount it, and it does, and… he does. Nothing ever feels really desperate even in the way that Gravity did, where running out of breathable oxygen was occasionally a serious concern.
That said, it wasn’t bad. It has a deliberately lighthearted tone and some great lines (“Mars will come to fear my botany powers!”), though without the stakes to balance it out, it almost gets a little bit too quippy for me.
Basically, for me, of the two movies I’ve seen in the last two weeks, I prefer Sicario because I like miserable, unpleasant things. But The Martian is crowd-pleasing and much more broadly accessible, and there’s a place for that too.
(note: It’s worth it to remember that I’m really kind of far over on the Violence/Squeamishness scale, so stuff like some self-surgery early on in the movie will still be quite uncomfortable for most(?) people. But the general feeling is one of tameness, overall).