A year ago since Christopher Nolan blasted us away with Interstellar, The Martian had a tough act to follow with the film still lingering in our minds. However, despite great pressure, Ridley Scott delivers a fantastic film that combines fascinating science with nail-biting adrenaline rushes, all whilst balancing wit and light-heartedness. Based upon the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian has come at the perfect time. Mars has occupied the public mind with increasing frequency over the last 5 years, primarily due to the success of Curiosity, the Mars rover, and the recent discovery of water on the planet. As the Red Planet feels more and more within our reach, for many it is no longer a question of “can we?” but instead “when will we?”
The Martian follows the story of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a member of the Mars expedition named Ares III. While exploring Mars he is separated from the rest of his crew by an enormous storm. With no way to know whether Watney is alive or dead, mission commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to abandon the mission and leave the planet and her crewmate. Alone on Mars, and with any potential rescue mission 4 years away, Watney must improvise a way to survive long enough to contact NASA and await rescue.
For me, the biggest joy of this film is its incorporation of science. Due to our increasingly optimistic astrological prospects, it is becoming more and more important to filmmakers to base their fantastical stories within real scientific possibilities to lend their films a feeling of authenticity and credibility. It was Interstellar which set this precedent and it is one which The Martian continues but is far easier to follow than the gravitational ponderings of the former film. The Martian owes its scientific clarity to the way the script utilises Watney’s frequent video-log entries, in which he presents his problems and discusses his solutions with scientific knowledge we all learned at school. Of course there is some lenience in the scientific aspects (look no further than the ‘Iron Man’ sequence) but there needs to be. If The Martian followed scientific theory rigorously we would be watching a documentary in which very little happens, including the basis of the plot.
With all of this said, The Martian is not just one big science lesson; it is an incredible story of humanity’s desire to survive. It would have been very easy for Watney to yield in such a hostile environment which both the script and Scott’s directing allude to in detail. He faces death at every turn, sometimes with nothing to hold it back but duct tape and tarpaulin, yet he chooses to endure not just isolation, but a collection of Happy Days episodes and Commander Lewis’ collection of disco music. His distaste for Lewis’ music is but one of many ways in which the film maintains a steady balance of light-heartedness and blood-pumping thrills. The one criticism that can be raised is that in the pursuit of wit, Scott’s directing ignores the personal toll of isolation. There is little to no sense that being marooned is affecting Watney other than a brief moment when we see how wasted his body has become due to a diet consisting solely of potatoes.
The Martian boasts a fantastic cast. Strangely, Matt Damon’s last role was in Interstellar as a marooned astronaut. Damon doesn’t falter here as he produces an incredibly grounded performance injected with great humour when needed most. This is all the more impressive considering that in the vast majority of his scenes he only has himself to work off. Jessica Chastain exudes confidence and authority in her role as Melissa Lewis, yet behind her veneer of command we see her guilt over abandoning Watney and her steely determination to rescue him when she learns he is alive. Beyond these two main performances you will find a cast of excellent quality in Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover and Sean Bean – SPOILER ALERT: he doesn’t die in this one.
All in all, The Martian is a brilliant piece of cinema. From a director who has a wealth of experience in the genre to a top form cast and a script that balances science and entertainment, The Martian will be remembered as a great example Science Fiction.
What did you think of The Martian?
Comment with your thoughts.
– Tom Russell