Film review: The Martian

Matt Damon in The Martian.
Matt Damon in The Martian.

Joseph Austin reviews the topical Matt Damon science fiction film The Martian.

Matt Damon has gone from bad astronaut to good in his last two outings set in space.

Where he was very much the surprise villain in last year’s dimension exploring epic Interstellar, Damon plays the solo hero this time around in The Martian – Ridley Scott’s best film in years.

When a severe storm disrupts the work of NASA’s Ares III crew on the surface of Mars, botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is thought dead after he is struck by debris during the evacuation.

Coming to terms with the harsh truth that he is now alone on a planet with no natural water sources, no food and no means of communication, Watney vows to stay alive in a battle against insurmountable odds.

Even from its earliest trailers, The Martian’s tone is noticeably lighter than that of its space film counterparts ie. Gravity and the aforementioned Interstellar.

Readers of Andy Weir’s novel (on which the film is based) will no doubt attest to the way in which Scott brilliantly captures Watney’s snarky demeanour and dry wit.

The result is a slightly more relaxed movie with some fun moments to accompany the more serious ones, something Christopher Nolan’s film severely lacked.

As well as Watney’s constant positivity throughout, the film’s disco soundtrack keeps things on the up.

Thanks to Commander Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) extensive music library, Watney solves problem after problem to the likes of Donna Summers’ Hot Stuff and David Bowie’s Starman.

It’s very Guardians of the Galaxy in this respect.

In terms of story, The Martian is not really about what will happen but rather how they happen.

We know that Watney’s crew members; Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (who also starred alongside Damon in Interstellar), House of Cards and Fantastic Four’s Kate Mara, plus Marvel duo Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Michael Pena (Ant-Man), won’t just head back to Earth and do nothing about saving their friend.

We also know that despite the cost of a rescue mission, NASA chiefs Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) will do everything they can to get their man home.

These Hollywood big-hitters are just about convincing enough as the action flits between planets.

At times even Damon’s performance feels just shy of the 110 per cent required to play the ‘cast away’ role.

But it’s all about the how.

How does Watney survive? How does he make food designed to last six weeks last 400 days?

How do you pull off a rescue mission in outer space? This is what keeps things ticking.

A problem presents itself and Watney solves it, somehow.

Even if this does mean stirring human faeces in order to make fertiliser.

As per usual in a Ridley Scott movie, the visuals are truly out this world. Exquisitely brought to life by the sand dunes of Wadi Rum in the south of Jordan, Mars has never looked so good – or as desolate.

Overall, The Martian makes for an immensely entertaining outing from Ridley Scott, whose legendary status has been questioned of late with the likes of Prometheus and Exodus: Gods & Kings.

We’re still nowhere near the realms of Scott classics such as Alien and Blade Runner.

But with a tonne of courage and a load of science, The Martian takes Scott one giant step closer to being back on the right track.