Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Donald Glover .Genre: Sci-fi. Running time: 141 minutes. Certificate: UK (12), USA (PG-13)
Legendary director Ridley Scott has brought the world classic films such as Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and American Gangster. His most recent batch of flicks, however, have been anything but classic as the quality of Robin Hood, Prometheus, The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings has ranged from disappointing to bad to downright awful (I’m especially talking about you The Counselor!).
Does Scott’s latest film, The Martian based on the 2011 novel by Andy Weir, see the veteran filmmaker relive his former glories? The answer is yes it does, as while The Martian is not out of this world, it’s a spirited piece of sci-fi and a welcome return to good form for Scott.
The film starts on Mars, as a team of six NASA astronauts are conducting research on the planet’s ability to sustain life.
Within the first couple of minutes, a storm comes worryingly ahead of schedule and is much more severe than the crew first anticipated.
The team abort their mission and attempt to race back to their space shuttle but as they do, one member Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets caught up in the storm and is left behind by his fleeing teammates who fear him dead.
He’s not dead of course, just knocked unconscious by the storm and when he wakes up after it’s passed, the seriousness of his situation sets in. He’s all alone with no communication system, he’s millions of miles away from home and he’s got enough food and water to last him around a month. His only saving grace is the hub left behind by the NASA team.
Mark’s survival instinct kicks in as he decides death is not an option and that he must “science the shit” out of his bad predicament. This is where The Martian is at its most enjoyable as watching Mark use desperate but deliberate measures to stay alive is fascinatingly fun.
Using a Vlog, Mark talks the audience through what he’s doing which keeps you involved in his struggle for survival. Of course you have no clue whether Mark’s attempted methods of growing food, making water and trying to make contact with NASA are fact-based or made up for the purpose of the film but they’re presented to you in way which feels entirely real.
While Mark’s stranded on Mars, the folks at NASA are scrambling for way to rescue their missing man. After a series of heated debates and panicked press conferences, the brainiacs at the space agency think they’ve stumbled on a breakthrough but just like Mark’s survival mission, there are obstacles.
Meanwhile, his downtrodden teammates are making their long journey back to Earth, initially completely unaware that their fallen comrade is still alive.
The action switches from lonely Mark on Mars, to his regretful returning crew and to the under-pressure NASA group which adds a great deal of genuine tension and emotion as everyone’s desperation to get Mark back home raises the stakes.
The supporting cast deserve a lot of credit as their classy performances embed The Martian with a sense of reality. The large array of talent including Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and (deep breath) Donald Glover all contribute their acting prowess significantly.
Still The Martian is a one man show as Matt Damon’s Mark is the heart and soul of the film. A large portion sees Damon on his own and he carries the weight of the movie on his shoulders magnificently. His injection of natural charm and charisma means that the time we spend with Mark is never boring (which it easily could have been) and Damon’s mixture of fear, determination and humour make his character likeable and relatable.
Damon is propelled by Drew Goddard’s witty script which adds enough comedy (although not all of it works) to keep things mostly light. There’s also a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo in the dialogue, but it’s not as confusing as in 2014’s Interstellar – which also starred Damon and Chastain.
While The Martian has plenty of highs, there are a few lows which prevent it being a sci-fi masterpiece. Firstly there’s a period of around 20 minutes which is Damon-free which results in the film losing some of its oomph and ultimately make it feel a little bit too long. Also the carousel of characters mean that Mark’s distant crew feel a little underdeveloped, especially in the first half. As well, the film lacks the wow-factor that other space-faring flicks such as Interstellar and 2013’s Gravity had.
You may not leave the cinema amazed, but you’ll certainly leave it entertained as Scott manages to prove he’s still got it. Powered by a magnetic leading man, Scott takes you on an emotional rollercoaster on a distant planet – which Wadi Rum in Jordan beautifully doubles for. Let’s hope his next foray into sci-fi, the Alien prequel/Prometheus sequel – Alien: Paradise Lost – leads to similar success. The Martian scores a:
Check out the official trailer here: