The Films of 2015: The Martian

Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian is a cheeky, wise-ass sci-fi adventure; as potential Oscar contenders go, it’s refreshingly light and breezy, and its 140 minutes pass quickly.  Even as it barrels toward a conventional feel-good ending, it sidesteps the earnestness and the torpor that sink so many other Hollywood movies.  The Martian is a feel-good movie for people who think they’re too cool for feel-good movies, in which screenwriter Drew Goddard undercuts big emotional moments with benign sarcasm.  Goddard is a snarky writer—that much was clear in his foray into meta-horror The Cabin in the Woods—and the snarkiness of The Martian almost feels grating in spots.  But it keeps the movie jumping along.  Matt Damon, too, is well utilized here.  Damon has always signified as something of a wise-ass himself; as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is left for dead during a mission to Mars and must devise a plan to sustain himself until NASA can come to his rescue, he’s smug even in the face of catastrophe.  In a weird twist, the movie uses Damon’s (and Watney’s) pomposity to endear him to us.  Watney is both an irritating know-it-all and a self-deprecating goof who comes to view his situation as an opportunity for adventure (forced to appropriate and repurpose NASA equipment in order to survive, he declares himself a “space pirate”).  Damon’s Watney is just one of the film’s many lovably nerdy heroes.  With its science-geek humor and campy disco soundtrack, The Martian is big-studio entertainment at its most pleasantly unpretentious.       

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