The Martian Is the Perfect Matt Damon Movie

The sci-fi thriller is his best role in years.

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself stranded and alone on Mars, in THE MARTIAN. Photo by: Twentieth Century Fox

Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian. / Photo via Twentieth Century Fox

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding The Martian, Matt Damon’s new sci-fi thriller, which hits theaters nationwide this weekend.

Sure, some of the noise is due to a recent string of off-color comments by the Boston-bred actor. However, controversy aside, critics seem to be loving his latest big screen outing and are hailing it as one of the best films of the year.

The positive reviews and early Oscar buzz are largely due to Damon’s fantastic portrayal of Mark Watney, an astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars and must figure out a way to survive on the desolate planet until help arrives.

“Damon, in true movie star mode, brings a self-assured confidence to the role,” writes Us Weekly’s Mara Reinstein. “There’s something about Damon’s performance that makes him an empathetic everyman.”

Boston Globe critic Ty Burr also praised Damon’s performance, especially during the scenes when his character is pretty much talking to himself while recording entries into his video diary.

“Recurring scenes of Watney talking to the screen by means of video logs are a bit hokey and necessary for exposition,” Burr says. “But they also free up the congenial, funny impatience we respond to in Damon.”

It’s those unexpected, humor-filled moments that really make The Martian stand out from other space epics like Interstellar and Gravity, and it’s also where Damon shines.

Photo by Giles Keyte / Twentieth Century Fox

Photo by Giles Keyte / Twentieth Century Fox

The film doesn’t beat audiences over the head with complicated, scientific theory, nor does it lead viewers down a philosophical rabbit hole with Matthew McConaughey-style musings. Rather, The Martian balances its stunning space visuals and interpersonal drama with just the right amount of comedy, making it both a fun and entertaining cinematic journey.

The ’70s era, throwback soundtrack also gives the film a hint of Guardians of the Galaxy flavor, further showing the importance of humor to this Robinson-Crusoe-in-space story.

While Damon has made a name for himself with roles like the charming, smart guy à la Good Will Hunting, or the badass bruiser like his character in the Bourne film series, he’s truly at his best when he’s allowed to show off his comedic side. That’s not to say that he can’t do straight drama, but some of his most memorable roles also brought the laughs.

Take, for instance, his turn as Staff Sergeant Colin Sullivan in The Departed. Yes, his character gets into a lot of gun-toting action thrills, but Damon also comes across as witty and humorous, making his hard-to-love dirty cop that much easier to watch on screen.

Another example would be his role as Linus Caldwell in the Ocean’s series. Of course Damon’s character is sly and cool as he’s robbing casinos, yet he never loses his laugh inducing charm.

When it comes to The Martian, it may be the perfect movie for Damon because it fuses all of these different aspects into one role, allowing him to showcase his full range as an actor.

Despite being a science geek, Damon’s character comes off as both cool and hilarious as he uses his botany skills to come up with solutions for his precarious predicament.

“Mars will come to fear my botany powers,” Watney exclaims at one point during the film.

But it’s more than just Damon’s charm that makes The Martian work. The sci-fi flick benefits from the extremely smart writing by Drew Goddard, the excellent direction by Ridley Scott, and perhaps most of all, just a fantastic ensemble of actors who give Damon a boost with their own great performances.

By mixing comedic elements into this action space thriller, The Martian allows Damon to show off all of his best skills from his acting toolbox, making for one of his most entertaining big screen roles in years.