TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!
I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.
Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.
Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.
The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.
Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.
The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.
Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.
My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)
The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.