Starring: Matt Damon (The Bourne Ultimatum), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar), Jeff Daniels (Looper), Chiwetel Eijiofor (12 Years a Slave), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Sean Bean (Game of Thrones), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Michael Pena (Ant-Man), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Askel Hennie (Headhunters), Donald Glover (Community), Benedict Wong (Prometheus), Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire)
Director: Ridley Scott (Blade Runner)
Writer: Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods)
Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes
Release Date: 30 September (UK), 2 October (US)
At some point in all our childhoods, we wanted to be an astronaut. I think there’s just something about it that attracts our young minds’ thirst for adventure and discovery. But quite quickly, most of us realise how difficult and potentially dangerous the job is and we move on to more achievable goals. The Martian is a film about an astronaut put in the most difficult of situations and powers on against all probability, and it serves as a powerful message about perseverance and fortitude in the face of depressing odds. It also proves that maths can solve anything and that listening to nothing but ABBA for four years has its toll on your soul.
The Martian wastes no time on set-up and throws the audience straight into the meat of the story. It’s a slightly jarring experience at first, but the film does a great job of getting you up to speed on the fly and it saves on a lot of potentially pointless exposition. What then follows is one of the most brisk and deliberately paced films with a two-hour plus runtime I’ve ever seen. It achieves that perfect balance of filling the movie with a lot of fun details and humorous asides, but not a single piece of the film feels pointless. It’s the very definition of efficient storytelling, and Drew Goddard’s screenplay does a wonderful job of making all the science jargon light and digestible. The film also balances its various tones excellently, taking the situation seriously when required but always making sure to constantly inject fun and wit. This playful attitude is ultimately what makes the story far more relatable and touching than films like, say, 2001 or Interstellar. Instead of trying to show off how smart it is and confuse you, it presents itself as approachable and welcomes you to its concepts, creating for one of the most human hard sci-fi films since Moon. It’s also a welcome departure from the norm for Ridley Scott, who’s dour over-seriousness has made his last few pictures a bore; I had practically given up on the man after travesties like The Counsellor and Exodus: Gods and Kings, but this proves he may still have some creativity left in him.
Matt Damon is shouldered with holding most of the movie on his own, and he does a superb job of it. His performance as Mark Watney is savvy and clever, but he also hits all of the emotional beats with just the right amount of solemnity and delivers a truly moving performance; it certainly ranks amongst his best work. One of Ridley Scott’s other problems with his recent films is that he hires loads of great acting talent and then wastes them in barren roles. Whilst The Martian certainly remains Damon’s movie, the supporting cast is uniformly great and, whilst we don’t get to know most of them in detail, everyone is given just enough room to breath. Just to name a few, Jeff Daniels is one of the major standouts as a character that would usually be the de facto villain in a lesser movie, but by playing it as a reluctant realist rather than a pessimistic cad we remain sympathetic to his point-of-view. Sean Bean is excellent in his first meaty role in a long time where he feels important and doesn’t die, and it’s also great to see Kristen Wiig make a transition into more serious fare (though I couldn’t help but feel she was basically playing a more grounded version of her character from Knocked Up). Special mention must also go to Donald Glover for his small but pivotal and hilarious role; for Community fans like myself, it’s basically like watching Troy pretend to be Abed.
Even though Scott’s recent films have been lacklustre he’s never lost his knack for technical excellence, and with The Martian as evidence he clearly still has it. The film is gloriously shot by Darius Wolski with grand landscape shots of Mars, and the fusion between practical and CG effects is on par with Gravity in terms of photorealism. The production design balances that fine line between realistic and cool, whilst the music features both a haunting but triumphant score from Harry Gregson-Williams and a strong selection of disco classics to get on Damon’s nerves. My only real problem with the film is how it uses on-screen cards to introduce most of its characters; not only is this a big pet peeve of mine, here it feels wholly unnecessary as the script and direction make it very clear who everyone is and what their role is without the need for cards.
The Martian is a pleasant and heartwarming surprise as both a science-fiction film and a Ridley Scott film; it’s easily his best work in at least a decade. It’s rare to see a film of this ilk that has such an affinity for both realism and fun, proving that making a human story lies on filling it with all emotions rather treating everything with a removed sense of seriousness. It’s this emotional core that makes it a film that will work for all audiences, even if you have little interest in sci-fi, and I highly recommend you do venture out an experience it for yourself.
FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10
FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10