The Martian, like Gravity and Interstellar before it, is a spacefaring fantasy set in a lateral present. Life on Earth, as it looks to us today, seems pretty much in tact, and yet our reach in space seems to have increased a couple million miles, give or take a light year. This isn’t a gift bestowed on us by little green di ex machina. The implication, rather scoldingly, is that this technological potential is in fact a reality that need not be postponed.
All we have to do to achieve this stellar self-actualization is get our shit together, which is what the titular Martian literally does. Marooned on the red planet, and presumed dead, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) uses feces to fertilize a potato crop to sustain him until a rescue can take place. The action commutes between planets, as Mark learns to communicate and then coordinate with NASA command on Earth and his crewmates in transit thither. Their combined brainpower is enough to light a star.
Of course, their combined starpower is enough to greenlight a $100 million spectacle. Less remarkable than the cast, though, is the luxe way that the public servants they play are tailored. I detected a hint of corruption when the head of NASA (Jeff Daniels) was introduced holding a press conference about Watney’s death decked out in a Savile Row suit; but the movie sees nothing but circumspection behind his natty bureaucratic smarm, and blithely assumes that he has the cash flow of a Silicon Valley billionaire. There is not one iota of competence missing in the rainbow of staffers who work either below him or above him—in space. Any cynicism is delegated to the press agent played by Kristen Wiig: Doubt is the comic relief.