In 2013 we had Gravity, the ‘realistic’ sci-fi thriller; next we had Interstellar, the ‘realistic’ sci-fi fantasy; and now we arrive in 2015 with the Martian: the feel-good space romp. Based on the bestseller by And Weir, most people have glimpsed the premise either through a Waterstones window or over a fellow commuter on the war to work: astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is Crusoefied on the red dot in space, and must survive on this desolate planet until supplies, or rescue, can save his skin. But even with such high stakes (and the director who turned space into a hive of chest-bursters on board as well) this film keeps a smile on its face.
Most of this comes from the star of the show, Matt Damon, as the paranoia and fears of the interstellar castaway are communicated through sardonic wit. Even when face to face with impossible odds, Damon’s casual and familiar relationship with the screen allows us to cling to hope. When Mark Watney isn’t fighting for his life, he’d declaring himself the ‘first space pirate’ to NASA through the intercoms. The disco tracks that fuel the Mars scenes also take the edge off the drama, and give a surprising compliment to the flick overall. When ‘Waterloo’ becomes your rocket launch, you know that The Martian is rediscovering all that silly fun in the sci-fi genre.
And this is clear in the script also, as Drew Goddard crams enough quips into the lines that even the most serious scenes can be interrupted by a quirky Donald Glover with a rocket-pen metaphor. And for a film about isolation, Ridley Scott has cultivated an impressive cast with the likes of Chiwetel Elijifor, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean and plenty more that all come together as nerdy comrades. Yet the frittering between the astronauts and NASA detract from the main show, and everyone besides Damon swamps around too much in all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. Parts are rebuilt, calculations are done, the Chinese assist, and one can’t help but wonder if there are too many cooks in the NASA broth.
This begins to show past the half-way mark, as all the science banter and unnecessary Earth filler pushes the film past a two-hour mark it simply doesn’t need. The brevity and simplicity of our lead’s struggle is where The Martian shines, but Earth’s general faffing allows the film to wane by the end.
The film is a crowd pleaser all the same, and the optimism infused into the genre is welcomed. Space may linger too long, but Ridley Scott has provided an amicable tone that doesn’t often appear in his films – a friendliness that gives its audience a cheerful pat on the back. True, The Martian doesn’t boldly go where no man has gone before, but in the end you’re there for the ride, not the destination.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by; Drew Goddard
Starring; Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Elejifor
Runtime: 141 mins