The Martian

This otherworldly adventure yarn, with Matt Damon as a sort of Robinson Crusoe on Mars, might be the least self-serious movie Ridley Scott has ever made. Taking on Andy Weir’s scientifically scrupulous hit novel (as adapted by Drew Goddard), Scott relaxes his usual brow-furrowed fussiness just enough to crank out an affable popcorn-muncher. Stranded on the Red Planet by guilt-stricken fellow astronauts who had to blast off in a hurry and figured him for dead, Damon’s jokey, self-righteous survivalist answers his predicament by resolving to “science the shit out” of it. That leaves NASA with a mother of a management challenge: planning simultaneous rescues of an employee and of its own public image. Admittedly, I was a little fuzzy on why they’d sent a whole human crew to Mars in the first place, given the inherent danger and the fact that all anyone seemed to accomplish before the mishap was gathering soil samples. But it sure helps that the guy who did get stranded happened to be the botanist. The movie’s rah-science stance is thrilling but also infantilizing at times, relying as it does on suspended disbelief. There’s never any real doubt that our hero will be okay, just as there’s never any sense of those real-life challenges for which no amount of problem-solving teamwork montages will ever be enough. Oh well, it’s only a movie. Damon as dudebro redeemed by deeply nerdist tendencies is someone we’ve wanted to believe in ever since Good Will Hunting. Here his numerous charismatic co-stars include Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, and Kristen Wiig. For a faraway no-man’s land, this is one inviting world.