Based on Andy Weir’s enormously popular novel, and possibly now used as the best recruitment tool NASA has to offer, ‘The Martian’ serves as director Ridley Scott’s most purely enjoyable film in a long while. Likely to be compared to the recent ‘Gravity’, ‘The Martian’ is a real charmer of a feature, and far more family-friendly than the aforementioned Sandra Bullock vehicle which told a distinctively smaller story and relied on its visuals and ironic claustrophobic feel more than its players. Initially coming off like a one-man showcase for star Matt Damon, there’s an air of optimism and inspiration about the proceedings, mirrored in the excitement Damon’s character expresses throughout his predicament, maintaining both the audience’s interest and sympathy.
Said predicament is of the stranded kind when, during a deadly storm on the planet Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is presumed dead by his crew when it appears he is struck and killed by flying debris. Under the command of Lewis (Jessica Chastain), the remaining crew prep their journey back to Earth unaware of Watney’s against-all-odds survival. As he operates on himself (bringing slightly to mind the far-more graphic self-process Noomi Rapace performed on herself in ‘Prometheus’) and divides up the remaining rations in an effort to survive, not to mention utilising his botanist skills to “science the sh*t” out of the red planet, Watney expresses little dread at the thought that this could potentially be his end; his recorded messages to mission control re-affirm that his career is one that he loves, and therefore expresses little regret.
As mission control gain traction on Watney’s messages and work on the most logical, as well as safest, plan to bring him home, the film highlights the extreme team mentality that is needed when working within space exploration. Engineering, astrophysics, even the lesser thought angles such as political and publicity-aimed – Kristen Wiig shines as a spin doctor of sorts – the film upholds its stature as it becomes more ensemble-based with the likes of Jeff Daniels, Chiwitel Ejiofor and Sean Bean (finally playing someone who isn’t a villain) all excelling in their respective roles as the NASA director, a sympathetic engineer who jumpstarts the plan to save Watney, and the crew leader intent on informing his astronauts of Watney’s survival.
The second half of ‘The Martian’ relays focus on Watney’s crew, and the unanimous choice of altering their return home to save one of their own. Chastain lends real warmth to her commanding character, and the choice of having her love disco music allows the film to indulge with some camp tunes that are effortlessly integrated into Harry Gregson-Williams’ score; Gloria Gaynor’s classic “I Will Survive” being a prime example. All of the crew members (Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie) are allowed minor moments to shine though, and it’s particularly refreshing to have the team stocked with decent personalities, with no one slipping into typical villainous behaviour.
The film does run at a lengthy 140 minutes though, yet thankfully never feels overly long, and the 3D visual aspect isn’t necessary but they’re really minor quibbles with a film that is deliriously entertaining, funnier than one would expect, and effortlessly inspiring without shoving it down your throat. A genuine crowd-pleaser, ‘The Martian’ proves worthy of a trip to the cinemas.
My rating: 4/5
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Michael Pena
Classification: M (Survival Themes and Coarse Language)
Review by Peter Gray