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.
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