Our fascination with space has died down over the recent years. We are no longer as obsessed with the final frontier as we were in the 1960s and 70s, but to this day it still remains a brilliant setting for some of the best films in cinema history. “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Apollo 13,” and “Star Wars” benefited greatly from our obsession with space. Last year, Christopher Nolan had the chance to bring forth another space classic with “Interstellar,” but fell quite short in my mind, especially in comparison to the feats achieved by “2001.” Ridley Scott, on the other hand, has been masterful when working in space; just look at the success he has had with “Alien” and “Aliens,” and for what it was worth, “Prometheus” wasn’t too bad either. Ridley Scott is a director who knows how to make a quality movie about space, but can he do so when it doesn’t involve aliens?
Speaking of “Alien,” this film was very Alien-eque at the beginning in the way it was shot and I have a great appreciation for that. Scott knows how to be atmospheric in an environment that doesn’t have an atmosphere (ahhh space puns…). In all serious, though, the opening sequences were shot brilliantly and got the film off to the strong start it needed to keep the audience engaged. When looking back at this film, there is one thing that will always stand out and that is the incredible ensemble cast. I can’t remember the last time we had such a talented group of actors from the lead of Matt Damon, to the mid-range character played by the blossoming Kate Mara, all the way down to a brief cameo by “Community” star Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino for those music fans out there. From head to toe the cast was brilliant and was a driving force for this film all the way through until the end. While Damon may not have been the Tour de Force that Sandra Bullock was in “Gravity” a couple years ago, he is still an accomplished enough actor to be able to bear the weight of this film. His work is far from Oscar-worthy, but he does what is required of him to keep the film flying high.
The other thing I think the film did really well was having a good balance between its various elements. There was an even amount of science, drama, heart-break, elation, and humor to make this the ultimate crowd pleaser film. Towards the end, there got to be a concerning amount of jokes for my liking, but it never became too extreme, thankfully. This film is a sci-fi adventure with a “Saving Private Ryan” sense of moral compass and integrity that elevates it to new levels of emotional depth than it would have previously been.
The only complaints I really have are that it could’ve gone deeper into the themes of psychological stress and pressures for Damon’s character for being alone for so long and the fact that it was very Hollywood-ized at the end. The Academy has shown us before that a Hollywood ending doesn’t deter them from handing out the Best Picture award when they recognized “Argo” for its work despite being very cliché at the end. For me, however, a Hollywood ending makes the film feel just that little bit too cheesy. It does so many things well, and is an overall solid film but never really reaches that realm of greatness. It’s a happy medium between “Interstellar” and “Gravity” in terms of quality. It may not go down as a classic, but it will always be a film that I enjoy.
The Martian (2015): 3.5/4 stars