The Martian (2015) – Film Review

Mr Scott must be prevented from choosing his own scripts

martian

The Martian is directed by the near-legendary Ridley Scott who sadly has been living off his reputation for a few years.  He is paired up with the ever reliable Matt Damon who stars as NASA astronaut Mark Watney who is part of a manned mission to Mars when a terrible storm hits.  He is lost in the storm as the crew heads for the spaceship and safety and Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) takes the decision to take off and leave him.  Watney survives the storm and finds himself alone with nothing but a few months of suppliers and his knowledge of botany to keep him alive.  He has to tackle a series of challenges as he tries to contact NASA to ask them to come get him.

The trailer had led me to believe that I was getting an updated Apollo 13 (1995) but what we find instead is that The Martian is more of a hybrid infused with a DNA strand or two from Cast Away (2000).  Not a bad starting point I hear you say and you’re right this is a darn fine movie.  I appreciated the fact that it throws you into the meat of the story from the beginning – there’s no build up to the mission, you start on the surface of Mars and build the tension from there.  Matt Damon gives his best performance in years which is important in a film that rests on his shoulders for long sections.  You see him in quite a dark place at the beginning as experiences self-doubt in the face of near certain death before he decides that he won’t be defeated.  As you will see if you watch this film (and you should) Damon also undergoes a physical transformation because let’s just say he’s on Mars for quite a while.

I was taken aback by just how much humour there is in this film which centres around his dissection of his former crew mates, scientific mishaps and his musings on the disco era.  There is some great attention to detail as the Mars buggy and spacecraft that carried the crew to Mars (and back hopefully) look a lot like actual NASA prototypes and computer models I have seen for the real thing.  The Martian avoids the trap of creating a human ‘bad guy’ and leaves it to the situation to be the enemy to be overcome.  I only had a a couple of minor quibbles which surrounded the casting of Sean Bean who felt a bit out of place when put alongside Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor as other senior NASA officials.  I had an ‘oh please!’ moment when NASA’s Chinese equivalent was introduced as it felt like a a cheap play for this growing film markets money but I haven’t read the book so who knows maybe it’s faithful to the source material.

I have heard estimates that in North America this film is not quite going to make as much money as Gravity (2013) which will be a crying shame because it is a vastly superior movie.  It is also evidence that Scott should be banned from picking his own scripts and forced to focus on directing.  The Martian was Damon’s baby and Scott was brought in later down the developmental line and I think it shows.  This film is humorous and gripping in equal measure and deserves its high rating.  My rating 4/5.

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