An emotionally invested enthusiast of pop culture in the guise of a Copywriter. Apathetic by design. Aesthetically offensive and eloquently candid. A sentimental heathen.

Space exploration movie is not actually my thing. Sure, I love to watch battles in space and discovering alien races – or a war against alien races. But after one too many Doctor Who seasons, the novelty of space exploration had worn off for me. Still, the idea of being stranded in Mars and having to fend for yourself while waiting for rescue piqued my curiosity, and Matt Damon had shown how good he could be as a stranded astronaut. Plus, the rest of the casts also made it kind of impossible to miss – and not just because Sebastian Stan is involved although he did play a huge part. 

 

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When a storm hit Mars, the crew of Ares III had no choice but to abort the mission and leaving astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind when he was presumed dead. Against all odds, Watney survived and is determined to science the shit out of things to keep it that way.

After all, he only needs NASA to plan and arrange a rescue mission before he runs out of time.

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Yes, I never had a lot of expectation towards The Martian, especially after both Gravity and Interstellar let me down. There are only so many ways to die alone in space, after all. But The Martian shows that you don’t have to be desperately suffocating or scientifically mind-churning to be a good movie about exploring and being abandoned in space. On the contrary, The Martian was a movie that was so filled with hope and have almost no antagonist that I can’t help but to feel a little disappointed. Even the head of NASA Teddy Sanders whom the trailer made out to be heartless turns out to be nothing more but a clinical leader. And it is a bit jarring, honestly, to see a movie filled tons of people who ultimately just wants to do something good and bring a fellow human home, a movie where the only threats are time and malfunction instead of betrayal and other human being. It’s not something that I’m used to and it throws me off, because I’m a skeptic who believe that in real life scenario someone would have find a reason to go against rescuing Mark Watney for the sake of saving money or maybe because he’s not worth all the effort.

But then again, why shouldn’t he? This is a man who graciously accept that his teammates abandoned him in Mars, optimistically work on planting potatoes in the planet where nothing grows, never even once been deterred by the fact that he had to travel 3.200 km to get a shot at coming home 4 years from now, and somehow managed to keep both his sanity and positivism intact after more than a year of being alone. He’s nothing short but amazing and that, in a way, is a problem. Because it’s hard to sympathize with a man who appear to be so collected and barely lost his marbles or show any sign of instability that normally come with being alone for so long. Maybe he genuinely believe that he’ll come home, or he’s acting that way to convince himself, but he made being left alone in Mars not that threatening and it undermines the message of desperation that this movie should have conveyed. I honestly waited for him to flip, for the switch to flicked and see the ugly side of this lone astronaut, but it never come. The closest thing to emotional outburst is the message he left Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis, and that is not enough for me.

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I’m not undermining Matt Damon, he did good as Mark Watney. He’s good at keeping up that happy face with little bits of frustration here and there, but he mostly had this “whatever” attitude. And it’s likable, but at the same time is also too aloof for me to actually invest in the effort or emotional support to bring him home. I mean, he made it all looks so easy that it’s not until I saw him naked in those last days, just skin and bone with ribs jutting out, that I realize how hard his life actually is. And I don’t get to revel in it enough because not long after, he embark on that journey and put his facade back on. The ease by which he get by, I suppose, also contribute to the lack of tension during the movie. Sure, I get that you have to hurry and stuff, but even when they fail I found myself shrugging with apathetic “Eh, I’m sure he can handle it” in my head. It’s not the other casts’ fault either, because I can see the struggle that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Vincent Kapoor and Benedict Wong’s Bruce, the moral dilemma that Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson face, and the cold calculation Jeff Daniel’s Teddy Sanders ooze even when he constantly had to make hard decisions. Even Mackenzie Davis’ Mindy Park caught my eye with her nervousness. Heck, I actually enjoy their interaction, how they work on solving this mission and bring him home, more than watching Mark Watney’s struggle – for the lack of a better word because he sure as hell doesn’t make it looks like one.

However, the fact that NASA crews got a lot of screen time means we only got the bare minimum of Ares III – or later Hermes – crews. I swear, out of all seven crews, I only know the full name of Mark Watney – obviously – and Beth Johanssen. The other get through the movie using last name only, and it’s enough to get by but nowhere near sufficient for me to know them. Most of them feels like they were only there to fulfill the head count and had no clear function aside from that one moment. It really doesn’t help that there were moments of forced emotional moment with each of their family-slash-loved-ones that was clearly there only to heighten the tension for the final act. And what’s with that suddenly established relationship between Beck and Johanssen? Not that I mind seeing SebStan got a happy ending for once, but it had no preamble and left me bewildered. On the other hand, I thoroughly appreciate the platonic relationship between Lewis and Watney. It is so very nice to see two people with opposite gender working on saving each other out of camaraderie and responsibility as commander instead of having Hollywood change it into another one of the needless romantic subplot.

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I pretty much enjoy The Martian, but it miss the important point of getting me emotionally invested in it. I do marvel at how effortlessly the story unfold, but it lack the tension or thrill that should have been there. Only the final act got me holding my breath and that’s more because of Beck rather than Watney because I am biased as fuck and there were just too many characters. Everyone was great, but having more than a handful of excellent actors on screen makes it really hard to focus, and Donald Glover was the only one out of them that caught my eyes and was memorable enough. Because it’s a given that Matt Damon took the place of honor considering his performance, and Sebastian Stan doesn’t count. The Martian is good, but it’s not great.

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Director: Ridley Scott. Writers: Drew Goddard. Released on: 30 September 2015 (Indonesia). Casts: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan.

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