The Martian

Is there such a thing as too much comic relief? Yes, and The Martian is plagued by it.

The Martian has a heck of a story. A NASA mission to Mars chooses to begin its journey home to Earth hurriedly as a giant storm stirs on the red planet. One of the astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is blown away by the high winds and left for dead as the others blast off for home.

But, wait! Watney’s not quite dead. He heads back into the Mars mission habitat the next day and evaluates his chances of surviving until the next NASA Mars mission occurs. He constructs an indoor potato farm to provide an ongoing food source and makes other accommodations to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the NASA crew in Houston (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover and others) eulogizes Watney but soon realizes that he is still alive. Watney manages to communicate, crudely at first, with the crew back on Earth.

As the other members of the departed Mars crew (including Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara) hurdle through space on the long journey home, they learn that Watney is alive and that he does not blame them for abandoning him.

Will Watney stay alive? Will NASA rescue him? Will NASA send him food and supplies? Will NASA move up the next scheduled MARS mission? How will Mark Watney’s story end? The tension builds. But each time it begins to crescendo, here comes the comic relief.

The funny stuff IS amusing. But it lightens the mood a bit too much, in my opinion. (This was an issue with 2013’s Gravity where George Clooney’s jokey character seemed more like the real-life Clooney than a believable astronaut. In 2000’s Cast Away, a similarly stranded Tom Hanks had some lighter moments—notably with a volleyball—but the underlying peril level was maintained throughout his ordeal.)

The Martian looks great, particularly in 3D. It is directed by one of our best directors, Ridley Scott. Matt Damon, as usual, is solid in the title role. The script is by Drew Goddard from the popular novel by Andy Weir. (That’s the one that started in 2011 with the author sharing one chapter at a time online, followed by a Kindle version, followed by publication in hardcover last year.)

The Martian comes close to being a home run, but doesn’t quite clear the fence. It’s a solid three-bagger, however, and that is not a bad thing. (Baseball is on our minds these days here in St. Louis.)

Fantastic Four

 

Sorry, but Fantastic Four is hokey and actually a bit boring. It’s an origin story, telling the world how the Fantastic Four came to be.

Some of the scenes and even some of the effects reminded me of low-budget mid-century sci-fi, the kind often lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000. The script is workmanlike, advancing the thin story, but gives the cast few chances to shine.

The beginning of the film shows promise. The setup is good, beginning with grade school and high school versions of Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) leading to their being recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to work with his kids Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and Sue (Kate Mara) at Baxter on teleportation projects.

Convincing Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to cross over from his dark side and join the team is a dicey move.

By teleporting themselves to an alternate universe, the team members undergo the physical changes that make them the superheroes they become. Teleportation issues and confrontations with Doom form much of the (yawn) latter part of the film.

Hardcore fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will feel an obligation to see Fantastic Four, out of a sense of loyalty and duty. And to see if it is, indeed, as disappointing as was predicted and is now revealed to be.

Those of us who are not Marvel fanboys but enjoy a good Marvel film may want to stick with Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron for 2015 viewing pleasure.

(Sidebar note: Reg E. Cathey has an incredible deep voice. He might want to shoot for some of the voiceover work that currently goes to Morgan Freeman by default.)