UK Release Date: 30th September 2015
Runtime: 141 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover
Synopsis: A talented astronaut is left stranded on Mars after a tragic accident on his space mission.
It’s not secret that the recent big screen work of Ridley Scott has been somewhat variable. Prometheus has an unfair reputation derived from unachievable expectations, but The Counsellor and Exodus: Gods and Kings were both bloated and almost entirely without enjoyment. Thankfully, in the shape of The Martian, Scott appears to have finally returned to his past form with one of the best sci-fi films of recent years.
Astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) becomes lost in a dust storm in the midst of his team’s evacuation from Mars. Mission commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) declares him dead and her team begin the journey home. However, Watney is alive and must learn how to survive on Mars whilst he waits for help to arrive from NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Mars mission boss Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Matt Damon has spoken in interviews about his initial reluctance to star in The Martian, given that his last feature credit was as the cowardly, but similarly isolated, Dr Mann in Interstellar. However, watching The Martian, it’s clear what persuaded Damon to come on board – Drew Goddard’s script. Goddard, who co-wrote The Cabin in the Woods with Joss Whedon, brings much of that film’s playful, sharp wit to this sci-fi setting, turning Watney into a genuinely likeable screen protagonist.
| "I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the greatest botanist on this planet."
Goddard wisely maintains much of the humour of Andy Weir’s original source novel, using the device of NASA’s internal log to get over the awkwardness of having a character essentially on his own for much of the movie. In order to avoid the potential irritation of solely focusing on one man for the entire runtime, the time is split between Watney, his former crew and the NASA bods watching him from Earth. This allows the film’s ensemble cast, packed with strength in depth, to make an impact. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain get plenty to do and indeed provide the film with something of a moral centre.
Damon’s performance is nothing short of terrific, selling the desperation of Watney as well as his determination to put on a brave, acerbic face. The comedy is the standout, but there’s raw emotion on show amidst the quips and cuss words. There is levity and heart here that Interstellar sorely lacked. Scott excels in directing Damon’s scenes, allowing the actor to take centre stage even as the dramatic locales around him demand the camera’s attention.
It is this that separates The Martian from many of Scott’s more recent endeavours. The focus is on the characters rather than the visuals, which makes the occasional flourish into the beautiful landscapes – with Wadi Rum in Jordan doubling for the Red Planet – all the more impactful. Scott is a visual storyteller first and foremost, but benefits here from that style meshing with a tightly-written script.
| "I admit it’s fatally dangerous, but I’d get to fly around like Iron Man."
In The Martian, every person involved either in front of the camera or behind it has found the ideal showcase for their talents. The comedy nearly always works, particularly when underscored by the delightfully anachronistic soundtrack of cheesy disco hits, and the space action is given real weight and meaning by the character work. It’s a film that works on almost every level and stands a decent chance as an awards season dark horse.
Pop or Poop?
Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard prove to be a match made in heaven with The Martian, which is Scott’s best film in a long time.
An amiably everyman Matt Damon leads a uniformly impressive ensemble cast in a film that is packed with witty, quotable dialogue and bolstered by a fun, quirky soundtrack.
It might not pack the scientific weight of Interstellar, but for sci-fi escapism, this is as good as it gets.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.