Based on the book of the same title by Andy Weir, "The Martian" stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut left behind on Mars after a freak storm blows him away from his crew, who think he died. His body, they think, will rest on the planet's surface forever, preserved by his spacesuit.
And in a way his spacesuit does preserve him, because Watney perseveres. He's the best damn botanist on the planet Mars, and he'll be damned if he's not going to figure out how to survive. (Matt Damon, like life, finds a way.)
What follows is like "Gravity," but minus a good chunk of the scariness and plus a hefty dose of humor. Bet you never associated disco music and pirates with Mars, did you? Once you see "The Martian," you will. The movie also pulls of the impressive feat of having Damon mostly wandering Mars alone, sharing screen-time with a whole lot of dust and the occasional potato, but it doesn't get bleak. Part of the loveliness of "Gravity" was its perfect depiction of the airless loneliness of space. The desolation was perfect and heartbreaking, but it's just not a part of this movie. Instead, Damon's character works with the planet, taking joy in his accomplishments and crowing at his successes. He's conquering the planet, but he's not beating it. The ultimate planetary "it's not you, it's me": Watney thinks Mars is great, but he's not ready to die there. Earth beckons.
That's another huge merit of "The Martian": Watney is just like you or me, if we had fallen out of the interstellar carpool on Mars and also happened to be about a bajillion times smarter than the average bear. Watney hates the "Happy Days" reruns he finds on his fellow astronauts' computers, but that doesn't stop him from watching them and from dropping an amazing reference to them later on. Ditto with disco music. Wouldn't you curse and scream for a bit if you were stranded on another planet? I sure would, and so does Watney. It's refreshing to have a hero we can recognize.
The supporting cast, though millions of miles separated from Damon's character, also shines. Ready all of your space puns with positive connotations -- stars, shine, out-of-this-world, stellar -- because "The Martian" is so good, you're gonna need them. Take a deep breath: Jessica Chastain, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor and more comprise an amazing ensemble, Watney's fellow astronauts and the various teams back on Earth fighting to bring him home.
For those not at TIFF, don't fret. You won't have to wait too long for your turn to see this awesomeness. "The Martian" hits theaters in a few short weeks, on October 2.