Watching a botanist try to survive on Mars against all odds is funnier than one would suspect. When Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets left for dead by his team during a mission gone wrong, things seems hopeless. A lesser man would possibly just give up and expire, but not this guy. He starts to grow his own food and makes risky plans to contact Earth and get help. He also begins recording quippy video-logs to show off what a smart-ass he is. This works both for and against the movie, as the logs are genuinely entertaining, but Watney seems so confident most of the time that you don’t really fear for his safety.
Tension is unfortunately lacking in general. There seems only one way for the story to go. Watney can’t die early on, because the movie would be over. Early plans for rescue are doomed, because – again – the movie would be over, so only once the movie nears the finish line and the final plan is being carried out, is there any real anxiety on the part of the viewer. Although not too much, because this film never feels like it would end on a downer after the plentiful displays of heroism. Watney’s recuers feel safe as well, as any one of them dying would take the feeling of victory out of the resolution and – again – be a downer. Considering how predetermined the flow and outcome of the story is, the movie feels long. While the similarly themed movie Gravity had some of the same tension-issues that The Martian has, it feels much tighter by comparison. Then again, The Martian has laughs, which Gravity decidedly did not have. Both movies are good at bringing across a sense of isolation, though The Martian dilutes this by spending a lot of time on Earth. When it comes to how plausible it all is from a science perspective, both movies are good at faking believability even though a lot of liberties are being taken. They pseudo-scienced the sh*t out of this.
With interesting visuals, mild thrills, some laughs and Matt Damon exuding charm all over the place, watching The Martian is still a worthwhile way to spend your time, even if the film wants too much of it.