One of the most primal human instincts is survival, even in the face of impossible odds.  The Martian celebrates and explores this, on a literally alien terrain.

The movie opens on Mars, as a six-person NASA team headed by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is collecting rock and soil and samples.  A terrible storm forces the team to board the rocket and leave -- but debris hits Mark Watney (Matt Damon), separating him from the others and apparently killing him.  The rest of the team makes it back to the orbiting spacecraft and begins the long trip back to Earth.
 However, Mark survived the storm and made it back to one of the structures -- but that's just the beginning of his problems.  Even if the structure doesn't have any problems (which could kill him instantly), the next mission to Mars is years away -- and the food left for the team won't last nearly that long.  He also needs to communicate with Earth, to figure out how to get to the landing site of the next Mars mission, and to stay alive and sane (the latter through recorded video messages).
Back on Earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) has reported that Mark has dies a hero's death --  but engineers Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) learn fro satellite images of Mars that Mark has survived.  Pretty soon everyone in NASA -- and several other places -- is working on a way to get supplies up to Mark, to find a way to bring him home, and to let him know that they're doing all of that to help him survive and return.

It's hard for a science fiction film to work as a procedural, but The Martian does a very good job of portraying a potentially realistic future scenario about a planet no human has yet set foot on.  The supporting cast is very good, but the film rests on Matt Damon's shoulders -- and he delivers.  Damon manages to make Mark hopeful, desperate, smart, creative, and even funny ("I'm going to have to science the shit out of this").  Mars becomes both beautiful and desolate, and the events -- from the nation rallying around the missing astronaut to the hope from success and despair from setbacks -- feels very genuine.  The Martian is an exciting, intelligent, and very human trip off-planet.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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