Packed with as much science-fact as it is with science-fiction, The Martian is a hugely ambitious story told with genuine heart. Matt Damon delivers a knockout performance, and this film marks Ridley Scott finally getting back to his best form.
A manned mission to the Red Planet, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is underway when a severe storm forces an emergency evacuation. In the process, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and presumed dead as the rest of the crew take off.
As NASA spokesman Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) announces the news to the public, his colleague Venkat Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is keen to continue with the space programme. However, Mark Watney is still alive.
Forced to survive on his own, with no way of communicating with anyone else, Watney begins to log his plans and has to devise a way of staying alive until a rescue mission will reach him. With supplies rapidly dwindling and faced with a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Watney struggles for years on his own.
Eventually, the earnest spaceman makes contact with Earth and the crew of the Hermes are tasked with bringing back Watney but at a great risk to themselves.
Based on the best-selling book by Andy Weir, The Martian is an uplifting story of the human spirit triumphing in even the most inhospitable environments. Damon is cheery in the way only Americans seem to be, the Jock mentality we see briefly in the trailers is far more tolerable in the context of the movie itself. The scenes early on when Watney literally picks himself up and dusts himself off are worthy of much whooping from the audience.
The facts of space travel are dealt with in a grown up manner and we are left to deduce some of the eventualities for ourselves. It’s never too complex to enjoy, remaining a movie which fully makes you understand the appeal of the book.
Back on Earth, Kristen Wiig plays a NASA media relations expert often resorting to many of the comedic mannerisms that she employed in Bridemaids. She’s not alone, some of the other characters back home feel far less grounded in reality than the ones in orbit.
Ridley Scott delivers a visual style to the film which is consistently engaging. The scenes on Mars and on the vast spacecraft are superb, although they are bettered by the stunning rescue attempt in the final act.
The writing is tight, and even the characters that seem too broad to be in the film from the outset end up having a real purpose. The music cues, taking in well known pop songs and a superb score by Harry Gregson-Williams, compliment each other throughout.
Ultimately though the film depends on us siding with, and believing in, Watney. Damon excels in the lead role, even when we don’t like him, we want him to make it. The physical and mental torment he undergoes is brutally delivered, even when it is played for laughs.
In the world of Hollywood jeopardy it doesn’t get much grander than desertion on Mars. This ultimate story of survival, and when done in the style of The Martian it feels as real as anything else you’re likely to see.
A triumph of the human spirit and of grandiose filmmaking.