Brian DePalma's "Mission to Mars" usually inspires one of two polar opposite reactions from viewers: either it's outstanding, or it's unbearably awful. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. Although the plotline contains little truly original material and none of the acting performances come close to oscar material, the film has some minor strengths which make it worth seeing at least once.
M2M takes elements of the plotline from A C Clark and Stanley Kubrick's 1969 classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" and reworks them into a near-future first-mission-to-Mars setting. Many of the scenes are reminiscent of "2001" especially the zero-gravity shots and the long, slow destruction of the rescue ship, with the four crew then drifting high above Mars in space suits: an episode of genuine dramatic tension which pays homage to the long scene of astronaut Dave's attempts to outwit the computer HAL in "2001". The final scenes give cinematic voice to the widespread speculation that the enormous upward-facing rock "face" situated in the Cydonia Crater published on NASA's photographs might indeed be an artificially-created artefact and evidence of previous intelligent habitation of Mars.
One of the problems with this movie seems to be that it falls between different classes of sci-fi and doesn't really know if it's fish or fowl, so to speak. Its upbeat enlightened-aliens-from-ancient-times theme is reminiscent of the original 1950 "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (justifiably seen as a classic) and Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" - especially the ending. It's probably best to suspend disbelief and see the message of M2M as belonging to this strain of the genre. The discovering-remains-of-advanced-ancient-alien-civilization-on-distant-planet theme was pioneered as far back as Fred Wilcox's "Forbidden Planet" in 1956, has been revisited many times since and forms the cornerstone of the plot of M2M. The realization of this theme is unfortunately trite and unconvincing, with pretty doe-eyed androgynous CGI alien demonstrating that they were responsible for seeding life on Earth millions of years ago before departing for destination unknown elsewhere in the galaxy (why didn't they just move to Earth and settle there? - not answered).
On realization of scientific detail and on representation of Mars as we know it to be, the film scores a fairly high 8/10 due to advisory input from NASA. Realistic portrayal of space travel within the confines of current technology know-how: 7/10. Acting performances, 4/10 at most and character development, around 3/10. Dramatic tension, a respectable 5/10. Originality maybe 2/10 (the face-in-Cydonia speculation has featured as the central theme in no other movie but the rest of the plot is derivative). Overall, 5/10.
So in summary, not as bad as some claim and not great either. If you don't expect either the haunting mystique of "2001", the schlock-shock of Ridley Scott's "Alien" series or the wondrous and positivist message of Spielberg's CE3 but accept M2M as a hybrid which works well in parts, you'll enjoy it for what it is: an OK movie which misses the mark of greatness by some margin, but can be good entertainment nevertheless.