I was going to say I’m as pleased with Ridley Scott‘s The Martian as the next guy. It’s fine — a smart, well-jiggered, studio-formula rescue movie. It’s basically Argo in space with a brainier script and a welcome emphasis on nerd science and good botany. Except I’m bothered by the over-praise from nearly every journalist who attended last night’s L.A. screening. Every so often a smart, classy, satisfying entertainment will come along — a movie that gives you a perfectly good handjob — and for whatever reason it makes perceptive, emotionally balanced critics wet themselves. These guys know better but they lose their bearings and drop to their knees and go all falsetto on their readers.
I didn’t flip out when I saw The Martian in Toronto, but I liked it as far as it goes. I called it a “seriously enjoyable, technically satisfying and emotionally inspiring big-studio rescue + popcorn movie that’s about as deep as a jacuzzi. And it’s fine for that. It’s aimed at the people who really love halftime shows at the Super Bowl. And it’s very amusingly written and rank with pop-music usage and smart-ass commentary — it’s almost a Tarantino movie in some respects.”
On top of the handjob this thing is looking to give you a backrub. It uses formula-uplift plotting all the way. That and the same kind of cleverly written stock dialogue and stock characters you’ve seen in a dozen escapist films like this. The same kind of chops, in fact, that were used in those Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action ensemble films from the ’90s or early aughts. It’s great when a film like this assumes that you’re smart enough to get all the terminology and whatnot. And at the same time assuring you that nothing too crazy will happen.
Matt Damon has not “charmed his way into the Best Actor race” — trust me. But Jeff Daniels‘ performance as a NASA bigwig will remind you of his character in The Newsroom. And Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing a NASA scientist with a heart…I can’t do this. I can’t fucking do this. Everybody is delivering a professional-level paycheck performance, plain and simple.
The Martian is going to make lots and lots of money, agreed.
A few weeks ago I wrote that the Martian trailers were more or less saying the following to the audience: “Uhhm, just so you know, this isn’t any kind of Alien thing…okay? We’re going with the times here. We need to bring in serious coin. I mean, if we could have worked in a cameo with Ben Affleck‘s Batman — would that be funny or what? — we would have.”
Not long after that I wrote that “the film’s sentimental scheme, initially popularized by Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, is for little boys and girls who want desperately to believe in liberty, equality and fraternity. If you want a more realistic capturing of the way things unfortunately tend to go in tough situations of this type, watch Mikhail Kalatozov‘s The Red Tent (’69).”