The Martian

This near-future sci-fi saga is popcorn cinema at its best

Remember that great scene in Apollo 13 where all the NASA nerds back on Earth are gathering together stuff the astronauts might have on board and figuring out fixes? Well, expand that to a whole movie, and bring extra duct tape.

This near-future sci-fi saga has to do with an astronaut (Matt Damon) mistakenly left behind on Mars when his crew blasts off to avoid a gargantuan sandstorm.

But this is more than a solitary quest for survival. Once his Earth-bound colleagues realize he’s still alive, all kinds of rescue scenarios are proposed. All totally bonkers.

How can a movie so full of math, physics, botany, and chemistry be so funny? It’s dense but deft in exposition, and offers countless little pleasures and details.

It works because it eschews all the emotional and metaphysical aspects of more serious sci-fi movies, like Interstellar, but that doesn’t mean it’s dumbed down. The un-gimmicky 3D appropriately enhances the experience.

But mainly it works because the director is the near-legendary Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner), who knows how to tell a rigorously realistic story. His amazing feat here is to use science to solve problems and manage to make it riveting.

Jessica Chastain ably rounds out her filmography as the mission commander. Also Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, and Michael Peña. This is popcorn cinema at its best; a brainy, phenomenally entertaining two-hour-and-24-minute, buttered bucket of “why we go to the movies.”

Japanese title: Odyssey. (144 min)