I just came back from a trip to Korea where the flight from Honolulu took more than nine hours. The flight was full, the food was awful and I couldn’t get a wink of sleep. I must’ve looked at my watch at least 20 times with time just standing still.
And yet, that was less grueling than watching “The Martian.”
You’d think that a film based on a bestselling novel, helmed by legendary director Ridley Scott and featuring an A-list cast, would be a home run. But unfortunately, the result was not greater than the sum of its parts. Matt Damon does a fine job as astronaut Mark Watney, who’s left stranded on Mars and assumed dead when he’s separated from his crew. He manages to pull off his best Tom Hanks “Cast Away” impression, with a hint of 21st century snark. But the rest of the stellar cast give bland performances that prevent a viewer from getting fully engrossed in the story. Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara and the rest of the cast deliver their lines stoically, which may reflect the seriousness of the situation, but bore the viewer.
“The Martian” brings back memories of “Gravity,” but doesn’t come anywhere near reaching the same levels of tension and “oh s—“ moments. While watching “Gravity,” I really felt Sandra Bullock was going to die on several occasions, but in “The Martian,” I never felt Damon was in any real danger. The worst-case scenario was that he’d just die of hunger from lack of food, whereas Bullock was always in danger of floating away in deep space, a much more frightening possibility.
The plot is pretty predictable; you can figure out early what needs to be done to save Damon’s character, and the question of whether or not to save him is never in doubt. However, the film takes forever to transition from Damon’s isolation to the inevitable rescue mission, and while the visuals are good, they are not compelling enough to carry the story.
Scott’s films always look slick, but his last few films have suffered in storytelling. As weird and wrong as this may sound, he may want to take a few lessons from M. Night Shyamalan, who always knew how to spin a good yarn, despite the overall quality of his films.