By Adam Guy
Directed: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean.
Matt Damon has played some unlucky characters. Bourne lost his memory and then spent three films tying to work out who the hell he was. In Saving Private Ryan he had an entire army search party looking for him so they could tell him all his brothers were dead. And in Intersteller he gets left to die alone on an inhospitable planet (until he tricks Matthew McConaughey into coming to find him). So it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that in The Martian Matt Damon has got himself in the shit, again.
Based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian follows a left for dead Mark Watney (Damon) as he tries to science his way to surviving on an abandoned Mars base. The action cuts between Mark, the remaining crew on their way back to earth, and NASA staff as they slowly realise that they’ve left a man alive and are then forced to decide whether it’s worth spending the money going back to get him. The emphasis on using believable thoughtful scientific solutions to help the main character survive, rather than the usual deus ex machina movie clichés, is the films strongest aspect, and knowing that you might have actually learnt something by watching it is surprisingly satisfying.
Matt Damon is so well suited to the role that at times it feels a bit like it’s just him vlogging from space. The relaxed, well written dialogue and clever self-aware humour (along with Damon’s delivery) are the films strongest aspect. With the focus squarely on him, the rest of the cast fall firmly into the supporting role category. But his guilt ridden crew mates and the NASA employees on earth make the best of the limited screen time they get. Hearing the words “directed by Ridley Scott” don’t quite have the impact that they once did, and The Martian won’t be remembered in the same regard as Alien or Blade Runner. But it is a for the most part a well made and aesthetically beautiful film. Oddly though, considering it makes so many references to the importance of science, it’s a shame that the ending seems more concerned with setting up action sequences than obeying the laws of physics. But The Martian does enough things differently from other science fiction films, and has enough personality of its own to make it a surprisingly fresh and enjoyable movie.