By Jeff Labrecque
Updated October 03, 2015 at 01:06 PM EDT
Credit: Aidan Monaghan/Twentieth Century Fox
  • Movie

Why are people always risking their lives to save Matt Damon?

Okay, perhaps always is a bit much, but in Saving Private Ryan, a unit of brave G.I.s who barely survived the storming of Normandy in 1944 had to sacrifice their lives to rescue one average man whose brothers had been killed. The man is the mission again in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, in which Damon plays an injured astronaut erroneously left behind on Mars after his crew presumed him dead and rocketed back to Earth to escape a destructive storm. When Damon’s Mark Watney awakes in the red sand of Mars, alive but completely alone, he has to figure out a way to make his meager supplies last and get in touch with Earth so they can mount some type of rescue. As Watney says in one of the video logs that keep the narrative moving: “I’m going to have to science the sh-t out of this.”

Based on Andy Weir’s nerdy best-selling novel and Drew Goddard’s script, The Martian relies heavily on its leading man. Although the film is bursting with famous faces — Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Peña are among his crew, while Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Chiwetel Ejiofor are helping from Earth — Damon holds the screen for long stretches all by himself, either MacGyvering some gizmo to survive another day or speaking directly to the many cameras that serve as his log and personal refuge. “It’s his high-tech version of Wilson the volleyball,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty, in his A- review. “Damon sells these confessional monologues about thermodynamics, hexadecimals, and even Donna Summer in a way few actors could. He’s equally at home peddling pathos and punchlines. And he single-handedly turns an epic survival tale into something intimate and human.”

Damon, sci-fi nerds might recall, recently played another lost-in-space astronaut in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. That unbilled cameo tweaked Damon’s innate likability for dramatic effect, but The Martian is more earnest in playing to the actor’s strengths. “Earn this,” Tom Hanks’s dying Capt. Miller once whispered to Damon’s Private Ryan. At 44, Damon has, and Scott recognized he had the right actor at the right time to make this cinematic voyage something special.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly) ▲

“If you had to boil Ridley Scott’s The Martian down to five words, you could do worse than this: “Matt Damon lost in space.” Thankfully, I have more room than that. And I’m glad I do, because Scott’s sci-fi adventure is the kind of film you leave the theater itching to tell your friends to see. Like Apollo 13 and Gravity, it turns science and problem solving into an edge-of-your-seat experience.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲

The Martian … is a hopeful love letter to science and math, American resolve, the power of friendship and the dream of a world in which nations set aside their differences to unite to bring one man home. It’s also a visual stunner, and it features one of our most likable and dependable actors giving a performance that ranks with anything he’s ever done.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)

“As commercial entertainment, The Martian delivers on expectations of a ‘smart’ blockbuster even as it adheres to the formula of a relatively simple feel-good drama. Though Interstellar aimed for more ambition, The Martian plays it safer: It’s a brainy studio effort that sticks to familiar ground in more ways than one.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe) ▲

The Martian … makes knowing stuff seem attractive, cool, even sexy. The details of how Watney turns farmer on a planet lacking oxygen or water … or how he cogitates his way to reestablishing contact with Earth are dramatized in scenes that are crisp, exciting, and zinging with wit. They trade on the bond that audiences have built over the years with Damon as a fleet but grounded presence — the movie star next door.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) ▲

“Damon is as likable an American actor as we have and ideally cast to convey the pleasing self-confidence and intrepid sense of humor that characterized Watney in the book. He’s just the kind of guy to add interest to the story’s considerable science and make Watney’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars situation plausible.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times) ▲

“Damon’s Everyman quality (he’s our Jimmy Stewart) helps scale the story down, but what makes this epic personal is Mr. Scott’s filmmaking, in which every soaring aerial shot of the red planet is answered by the intimate landscape of a face. There’s a touch of Cecil B. DeMille in his cinematic DNA (for better and occasionally for worse), though, like many who saw 2001: A Space Odyssey during their esthetically formative years, there’s even more Stanley Kubrick.”

Dana Stevens (Slate)

“Scott has, against all odds, broken one of the most fundamental laws of physics: the tendency of systems toward entropy. Scott’s recent films, many of them grand-scale spectacles (Prometheus, Exodus: Gods and Kings) have grown progressively longer, slower, and more ponderous. Now, suddenly, the director has changed course with a movie that, while certainly long — The Martian approaches 2½ hours—feels as bouncy and light as a beach ball.”

David Edelstein (New York) ▲

“Cynical as I am about how monster-budget blockbusters have come to dominate the studio mind-set, I can’t imagine anyone not liking this one. The Martian is shot, designed, computer-generated, and scripted on a level that makes most films of its ilk look slipshod. Scott and writer Drew Goddard aren’t trying to make an ‘important’ sci-fi movie like Interstellar. They aim lower but blow past their marks.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

“There are lots of good things in The Martian, but then there are lots of things in The Martian altogether, too many things. The new Ridley Scott movie is fascinating and charming and crammed and overstuffed, and it’s a curious case, too. It gets all the seemingly hard things wonderfully right, but then caves in at points that should have been easy. Worst of all, “The Martian” turns sluggish right when it needs to speed up.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)

“Imagine George Clooney’s wisecracking character from Gravity fetching up on Mars, only to be the subject of an Apollo 13-style rescue mission, and you get a sense of what part of fictional outer space The Martian occupies. Refreshingly irreverent but unapologetically worshipful when it comes to honoring real-life science, this bracing riff on exploration, gumption and ingenuity shows what Big Movies can do when they resist taking themselves too seriously.”

Peter DeBruge (Variety) ▲

“Scott carries that scrupulous adherence to science forward in the film, eschewing a more predictable suspense-movie score from composer Harry Gregson-Williams in favor of the sort of mellow musical chain reaction heard in natural-science docs and Discovery Channel reality shows. The idea here is to capitalize on the excitement of human ingenuity, the musical metaphor for which can be heard percolating behind the team’s every breakthrough — and they are a team.”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 81

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 134 minutes

Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig

Directed by Ridley Scott

Distributor: Fox

The Martian

2015 movie
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 142 minutes
  • Ridley Scott