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The Martian is a gripping story of human survival, and a fascinating mix of intensity and humor, packed within an unconventional sci-fi adventure. Not only is the film a resurgence for veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott, and a great showcase for Matt Damon’s ability as an actor, but a unique and emotional journey into the story of human will and spirit. Special effects, cinematography, and visual ingenuity aside, it’s the writing and directing that makes The Martian one of the best films of the year.

In the not too distant future, space travel has been advanced to the point that travel to Mars is feasible and regular. A group of astronauts, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) goes on a routine trip to research the planet, but when a massive storm hits, the team is divided and astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind and presumed dead. While NASA’s director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and scientists Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) and Venkat Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofer) desperately search for a solution, Watney is left alone to die, and must find a way to survive in the bleakest of situations and beat the odds.

Ridley Scott is clearly a master filmmaker, and The Martian gives him an opportunity to do something different that he’s ever done before. There’s a raw intensity to the entire experience, and while it’s obviously a sci-fi film, it feels very grounded and scientifically grounded. Additionally, the humor of the film not only sustains the realism of the film, but also makes it much more enjoyable than just a grim survival story. The sarcastic, witty comic banter adds so much to the film’s identity, and when the gripping final moments of the film close in, it becomes more apparent that the humor was necessary.

Just as any survival story is, the strength of the lead actor makes all the difference. Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Mark Watney, and combines the humor, intelligence, and dedication of the character to create a compelling lead, giving some huge laughs and heart pounding emotional moments. Watney’s crew, consisting of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara, have particularly good chemistry, and while there screen time is relatively limited, they have great chemistry and leave an impact.

The remaining cast is equally strong. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofer, Sean Bean, Kristin Wiig, and Donald Glover very much play into the politics and science behind getting Watney home alive. It’s impressive that this storyline is maintained without being distracting from the story of survival. The actors are all excellent in their respective roles, and there’s a believability to the delivery of their dialogue, as well as a genuine interest in what goes on behind the scenes.

The Martian is one of the best films of the year, a brilliant sci-fi adventure packed with heart, intensity, wit, and some of the best 3D ever committed to film. Not only is it a return to form for Ridley Scott’s career, but a classic story put within the depths of space. Grade: A