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Family Movie Review: The Martian (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 141 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is about an astronaut/botanist accidentally left behind on Mars, and has some cursing, one kiss, a few gross-out moments involving using feces as plant fertilizer, one scene of Matt Damon stepping out of the shower with his butt exposed, and has one gory scene where an injured character is impaled by debris, has to dig out the piece inside his own body, and then use a staple machine to give himself stitches. It’s pretty bloody, but that’s as intense as the film gets.

‘The Martian’ gets nearly everything right, from its mostly perfect casting to its endorsement for international collaboration for the common good. It’s a great way to start the fall movie season.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Martian,” with its wonderfully likeable lead performance from Matt Damon, its wry sense of humor, and its impressive visuals, feels like a personal apology from filmmaker Ridley Scott for his last few terrible films: “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “Prometheus,” and “Robin Hood.” Practically everything those films did wrong, “The Martian” does right—it’s a great way to start off the fall movie season.

“The Martian” is adapted from the best-selling book by Andy Weir, whose meticulous approach to how a human would survive on Mars made the book a pop-culture phenomenon. Scott streamlines some of the more in-depth elements of Weir’s novel, which went deep into chemistry and botany, but never loses its spirit of innovation and collaboration.

The book presents a series of problems that its characters need to solve to save another human life, and the movie doesn’t lose sight of that. It is methodical, humanist, and life-affirming. For both science-oriented families and not, “The Martian” is a solid choice.

The film is about Mark Watney (Matt Damon, of “Interstellar”), a botanist who is part of a group of scientists on a mission to Mars. But when a major sandstorm causes them to abandon the mission, Watney is impaled by a piece of debris, assumed to be dead, and left behind on orders from the mission commander, Lewis (Jessica Chastain, of “Interstellar”). The emergency departure of the mission is a disappointment, but more devastating is Watney’s death, which becomes international news.

Except he isn’t really dead, and is instead stuck on Mars with no way to communicate to Earth and without enough food or water to keep him alive for very long. His problems go on and on, but it’s within Watney’s nature to solve them. As Watney cheekily says in the video journal he starts to keep his sanity, “I’m going to science the s— out of this.”

Simultaneously, on Earth, there is damage control from NASA, especially when they learn Watney is alive (a plot point that is theoretically a spoiler, but has been revealed in numerous commercials and trailers for the film already). NASA higher-ups Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels, of “Dumb and Dumber To”), Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of “Z for Zachariah”), and Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong, of “Prometheus”) start working on all the ways to get him home, faced with the prospect of months and even years of work ahead of them. And then there is Lewis and her crew, who still think that Watney is dead. And amid all this, there is Watney himself, trying to figure out how to stay alive without going insane on a planet all by himself.

“The Martian” succeeds so much because of Damon, who takes Watney’s wise-cracking, self-deprecating, and clever personality and brings it to life. His character grows with every video log, with every ingenious idea, and with every survival move he makes on the planet, and although all the film’s other characters exist in his orbit and are defined only by their relationship to him, that works for a narrative in which everyone is working together to save Watney anyway. He is the focal point of the film, and so everyone revolving around his narrative makes sense. It gives Damon the opportunity to shine in the role, and he does.

(Irritating, though, that Scott took two characters who were Asian-Americans in Weir’s original novel and cast them with different-raced actors here. That was a choice that made Scott’s previous film, “Exodus,” so unbelievable, and it’s frustrating here as well.)

Nevertheless, there is so much else that is enjoyable here: the stark, desolate, and beautiful way Scott portrays Mars; the strong supporting performances, especially from Ejiofor and Ng; and ultimately the fact that everyone in “The Martian” is, fundamentally, nice. Everyone is working toward a common good. Everyone is hopeful, hard-working, and optimistic. There is something inarguably sincere about “The Martian,” and it’s infectiously good because of it.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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