“Apollo 13” meets “Interstellar” in director Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” and the result is a blockbuster piece of entertainment that matches both. Matt Damon has never been more likable as Mark Watney, an American astronaut and botanist who, in a plausible scenario, is left behind on Mars with no hope of any kind rescue for at least 4 years.
The concept is audacious, the execution flawlessly offers no shortcuts. “I’m going to science the shit out of this,” Watney promises, and that he does. As do a terrific cast of characters on the ground at NASA.
“The Martian” is one of those rare movies about smart, capable people problem-solving their way out of a seemingly impossible situation, and doing so without a Deus Ex Machina. Watney will run out of food and oxygen and water in less than 60 days. How, on a planet without all three, can he survive for years?
And that’s just the start of his problems. How will he travel thousands of miles in a rover with a battery that requires recharging every few hours? How will he keep from freezing on the surface? Each solution only seems to create more problems. Each problem not only requires a solution but a plausible one, and one that has to be explained to a dimwit like me who doesn’t want to lose track of the story even as I count the number of Milk Duds I can fit in my mouth.
On top of all this science is a big throbbing heart that expresses and embraces the value of each individual human life and then stops to pause for a moment of Christian grace. The only off-key moment is a big smooch on the bare ass of the Chinese government. Scott manages to finesse this well enough that if you don’t know left-wing Hollywood has sold its soul to these human rights abusing-despots, you probably won’t notice.
Tense, funny, charming, moving, beautifully photographed with seamless special effects, “The Martian” is Scott’s best movie since 2007’s “American Gangster” and Damon’s best ever.
I can’t wait to see it again.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC