How many times does Matt Damon need to be saved? Surely Hollywood thought one more time wouldn’t hurt as Matt Damon is once again thrust into peril as the rest of the world awaits for his arrival in Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian.
Based on the best-selling book by Andy Weir, The Martian sees Matt Damon’s unlucky astronaut Mark Watney abandoned on the red planet after a ferocious dust storm. Believing the worst, Watney’s crew take off, leaving Watney with only his resourcefulness to rely upon and this is much of the appeal of The Martian.
On paper, the idea of spending over an hour of screen time with solely Matt Damon trying to survive on Mars sounds tedious, but Matt Damon’s every man quality along with the script’s grounded approach to science fiction, make for a movie that has as much humanity as it does science and what a lot of science there is too. The script clearly draws from Weir’s book which is research heavy and every dilemma that Watney encounters is given a strong scientific grounding. There’s still moments where you must suspend your disbelief, but much of the movie feels plausible to your every day layman.
In fact the movie revels in it’s science as rather than accepting his likely death, Damon’s Watney almost relishes the life or death scenarios that are thrown at him. At one point early on, when trying to make water to nourish his potato plants, Watney almost blows himself up. Soon after we then see his video log explaining how he almost blew himself up as though he should of posted the event on Youtube for posterity.
Much of this charm is found in other elements of the movie as not only is Watney stranded on Mars, he’s also stranded with the captain’s disco music and a collection of TV classics including Happy Days. Watney’s general snarky nature also keeps the film from being over earnest and there are as many laugh out loud moments as there are heart in the mouth moments.
Matt Damon doesn’t carry The Martian alone as he is also accompanied by a galaxy of stars. You have Wathney’s good hearted crew led by Jessica Chastain, and then you have the clever NASA types led by Chiwetel Ejiofor but kept in line by a hard-lined Jeff Daniels. There’s many more including Michael Peña, Kate Mara and even Sean Bean.
As the movie draws to it’s conclusion it jumps more sporadically between the different groups of people all united in saving Mark Watney. It’s here where the film is less successful as whilst all the supporting players are interesting, some don’t get much to do. Kristen Wig just seems as though she’s there so things can have things explained to her and Donald Glover seems as though his only purpose is to appear in a key scene in which a last ditch plan is hitched together.
Much of this is in the book but the balance between Watney and everything else going on around him in the movie becomes skewered and the less time it spends with him the less interesting The Martian is.
Despite this the movie happens to be Ridley Scott’s best film for a long time, proving that when accompanied with a great script, which on this occasion was provided by Drew Goodard of Cloverfield and The Cabin in the Woods fame, he is one of the most accomplished directors out there. The final act is also nail-biting stuff and there is a real celebration of human ingenuity and creativity. It may be a bit over-cloying in how literally everyone is enthralled by Watney’s plight but space travel is only ever seen as noble and the way in which numerous fields of science work together to solve problems is a genuine marvel.