THE MARTIAN (2015, Ridley Scott)
GRAVITY meets CAST AWAY in a rousing crowd-pleaser that shows off both Matt Damon’s considerable charm and unfussy gift for drama as well as Scott’s storytelling skill that’s at once propulsive yet never rarely over-stylized. It’s perfect middlebrow entertainment, never at risk of alienating the masses but remaining smart and fleet enough to congratulate its discerning audience as well. If you’d told me this was directed by Ron Howard, I’d believe you.
It’s also a shockingly optimistic script from Drew Goddard, he of the apocalyptically bleak CABIN IN THE WOODS, every bit a caustic broiling of human nature. This time around (adapting a novel, however), Goddard has sculpted a towering testament not only to mankind’s ingenuity, spirit, and adoration of science, but also its willingness to work together, to unify, and monolithically root for one person’s survival. There’s something endearing about Scott and Goddard’s rosy view of humanity in the face of improbable odds, even the sight of thousands gathering at Times Square to watch a broadcast of a NASA mission as if it were V-E Day. But it’s also a certain kind of fantasy. Whether or not you’re down with it, it’s hard not to get swept up in Damon’s resolutely maverick attitude, his sense of humor, his plight and peril, and his sense of honor and camaraderie. Matt Damon’s “Mars” is a studio backlot with rear projection and CG visuals, but the humans working together on Earth to save him might as well be from Venus.