Review: The Martian

the martian

It’s been weeks since I saw Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi offering, but work has been busy. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

The last big sci-fi extravaganza Scott had directed was Prometheus, which got some pretty luke-warm reviews. In fact, Scott is known as a director who is great with visuals, but story-telling and characterisation aren’t his forte. The script for The Martian by Drew Goddard, based on Andy Weir’s book, is so blunt and funny that it seems impossible for Scott to have made boring. Regardless of the fact that it’s very science-heavy.

You could only have someone incredibly charismatic in the role of Mark Watney, the astronaut left behind by his crew after a freak storm forces them to presume him dead after being hit by some debris. Firstly, he’s the main character and the titular Martian but secondly, he’s on-screen for around three-quarters of the film on his own. Luckily for Scott, Matt Damon is just the guy for the job. At one point you’re laughing along to a flippant thing he says then, within seconds, you are distraught as the alien planet tries to kill him again, and again.

Mars itself is a big character in the movie both beautiful and expansive and threatening and claustrophobia inducing. Scott’s visual style where landscapes are concerned really adds to the feel of Mars being a protagonist in the film, constantly challenging and threatening Watney throughout the film.

This central performance between Damon and a planet leaves the rest of the cast with not a lot to do, but virtually all of them turn in performances that are good enough that they really pop. Jeff Daniels’ director of NASA is a pencil pusher who doesn’t want to take any risks and when he does it comes across as reckless, Jessica Chastain’s mission captain takes responsibility for leaving Whatney behind and will do anything to get him back to Earth and Donald Glover puts in a memorable performance as the scientist who comes up with the maths to get Watney back.

Even Kirsten Wiig, who is playing a relatively straight role does a great job as the NASA PR woman. Surprisingly, the only actor who seems to be phoning it in is Sean Bean. But, I’ve not read the book, so I’m not sure if the character of the mission leader is supposed to be a bit detached and down-trodden.

The Martian is a roller-coaster ride of emotional highs and lows and – unlike Prometheus, which was a bit naval-gazing and Interstellar, which was too clever for its own good – it’s refreshing to see another blockbuster that is heavy on science, without being alienating. It’s also refreshing to see a group of characters who are level-headed and work together using what their wits to overcome each new challenge that presents itself. It’s good to see scientists, not action heroes.

If you’ve not seen it yet, you missed out as it probably isn’t in cinemas any more. But make sure to catch it on DVD/Blu-ray when it gets released, it’s well worth a watch.

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