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The Martian Review

The Martian Review: Ridley Scott and Matt Damon find their movie magic again. On Mars of all places.

Ridley Scott has confused me somewhat over the last few years. His output has been steady to the point of releasing a film at an annual basis. His last handful of movies left me cold and underwhelmed. He seemed to be chasing quantity rather than taking the time to focus on quality. Understandably, I went into The Martian with some trepidation. Was this going to be another critical flop from such a prolific director, or would all the pieces at play come together to give us a fun, entertaining, and thought provoking movie? I won’t leave you sitting in suspense. The Martian is a very good film. Ridley Scott seems to have found some magic left in his bag of tricks and delivers a heck of a good time. This is a movie review, however, so I can’t simply leave it at that. Let’s take a closer look at what The Martian had going for it.

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The movie plops us right into the middle of the action. We’re instantly treated to the wide, dusty red vista’s of mysterious Mars. A team of astronauts are diligently performing their duties gathering soil samples and other scientific duties. It’s not long after (and I do mean not long) that a massive storm derails the mission and they’re forced to evacuate. While on their way back to the escape craft astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and left for dead. That entire sequence makes for an attention hooking, exciting opening, but I do wish that there had been a little more with the team as a whole. Sure, prior to the accident we get tons of witty banter and a clear picture of the camaraderie between them all, but a little more of that would have perhaps given us a larger emotional investment into Watney’s ordeal and his team’s determination to get him back. Nevertheless the crew returns to their ship and heads back to Earth, unaware that Watney is alive.

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The rest of the film details Watney’s survival attempts. Though in a dire situation he’s in good spirits, which helps the audience have fun. Intercut with Watney’s chores are the actions of NASA who must walk the line between risking a mission to save Watney and keeping public approval high while understanding that Watney is in a no win scenario. Jeff Daniels plays the head of NASA, and while he does a fine job he’s a little too unnecessarily villainous at times. It’s hinted at and perhaps mentioned in passing that the future of the entire space program could lie upon what the public, and more importantly, what the Mars crew know of Watney’s situation. Eventually they break down and inform the Mars crew about Watney’s survival and naturally his team wants to rescue him. Using some fancy space maneuvers and a little bit of Chinese intervention the team manages to get back to Mars and perform the daring rescue of this plucky astronaut we’ve grown to love. It’s a suitably happy ending for a film the maintains an optimistic point of view it’s entire run time.

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The Martian is a film with all the necessary pieces for a cinematic classics. By and large everything fires on all cylinders and it’s a rip roaring good time throughout. As mentioned above I felt like Jeff Daniels character needed a better spotlight on his motivations to avoid just being a weak villain, which that character wasn’t. He was a big picture bureaucrat who’s interest centered on the entire space program rather than a single life. Speaking of life there were times the stakes didn’t carry the gravity they should have. Though Watney was in constant danger I never felt like he was ever truly at risk. It was a little too easy to sit back, watch, and know Mark Watney will make it home safe and sound. Spoiler warning: There are zero casualties in this film. Everyone gets to go home to their lives and families no worse for wear. I feel like a zealot calling for blood, but perhaps if one of the more background crew members had perished in the rescue attempt the heavy stakes I was looking for would have been there. The Mar’s crew brought a lot of warmth and character to the film, but I would have liked more of them. Still, all that said, I had a great time watching this movie. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to get some fun, well made entertainment. 

Fantastic Four – Review

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If I were asked to describe the latest attempt at a Fantastic Four film in one word that word would absolutely, without question, be joyless. I won’t beat around the bush here. We all knew this film was bad, but how bad was up in the air. This is a film who’s only reason for existing is to hang onto movie rights for a bit longer. It’s sad, really, to see Marvel’s first family treated with such after thought. It was as though the studio assumed that a film with Marvel super heroes is inherently great before the camera’s even begin rolling so why bother trying. Nevertheless I am a film critic so let’s get criticizing.

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Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four immediately starts off by deviating from the original origins of the titular super hero team. In this flick Reed Richards is a ridiculously intelligent youngster who’s working on a teleportation device. His partner in crime is a young Ben Grimm, who’s not nearly as bright, but fills the affable “muscle” role that he’s always inhabited in the comics. Soon after Richards teleporter is discovered, at a high school science fair of all places, by Franklin Storm, head of a brainy think tank full of young inventors and geniuses. Before you know it Reed Richards is recruited (not Ben, who’s quickly forgotten for awhile) and is hard at work finishing his teleporter with the help of Storm’s two kids Johnny and Sue. Added into the mix is the negligibly malevolent Victor Von Doom who’s motivation for doing anything is as muddy as the cinematography in this dull, dull picture. In any event the teleporter is soon finished and that’s when we’re introduced to the meddling “evil” government types who want to take the teleporter away and use their own guys to explore the mysterious (and bland) alternate dimension our young bucks have discovered. Not to be outdone these intrepid youngsters decide to teleport on their own, without parental supervision (gasp). For some reason Reed say’s he can’t go without Ben, which I imagine is about how the screenwriter felt having forgot Ben Grimm so many pages ago. Our young heroes go through the teleporter, bad stuff happens, they get super powers, they have a super hero vs super villain fight. The End.

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If it sounds like I’m over simplifying the later portions of the film I’m not. The narrative and cohesiveness of the story and characters fall apart around the same time as the lives of our young heroes do. The film sprints towards a rushed ending so quickly that the audience is in danger of whiplash every groan inducing second. No doubt the studio set it all up the way they did so they could get a sequel and start another power house franchise, but they sure missed the mark. This film can’t even claim to be a brainless action film a la Michael Bay. There’s little to no action happening. The final fight between Doom and the Fantastic Four is Reed saying out loud all the things that we the audience can clearly see are happening while each member of the Fantastic Four attempts to do something near Doom. The villain is ultimately defeated with a single punch. He tumbles back into a wormhole and that’s that. It’s exactly as exciting as it sounds.

I don’t know where to place blame here. Was it the studio? Was it the director? The actors? Nothing worked in this movie from the word go. It was a joyless slog through what felt like one film studio flipping the bird to another. I could very easily drone on and on about all the things they could have done to make the film better. There was plenty of small changes they could have implemented that could have allowed the characters to breath, to allow the narrative to excited and hold an audiences attentions, and to make the film fun, which above all else it was NOT. I can’t recommend this film in any capacity, unless you enjoy being painfully bored. Then again, we all knew it was going to be bad. Jokes on me.