If you caught my post on Matt Damon’s Top 5 performances I made it pretty clear that The Martian could worm it’s way into the list. Thankfully I don’t have to retract my optimism and can happily report that The Martian is as good as it looks.
Weaving a self-published e-book into the best film of the year so far Ridley Scott directs a Martian embracing Matt Damon to potential Oscar contention.
Utilising his eye for minute details, extraordinary lighting and steady pacing The Martian is a marvel to behold, the jestful Iron Man reference included.
In fact it’s the humour that distinguishes The Martian from your everyday run-of-the-mill space odyssey, which in the current Hollywood trend is no mean feat. Building on the success of Gravity and Interstellar Ridley Scott is in tune with his audience. But is careful to ensure the comic tone of the novel is maintained throughout and to great effect.
With Damon leading the way as Mark Watney, botanist, astronaut, coloniser: his knack for comic timing has never felt so fresh. Stranded on the desolate red planet with no access to running water (nice timing NASA), limited food supply and four years before a viable rescue mission can be launched, Watney has to “science the shit out of this.”
Scott and Drew Goddard (screenwriter) waste no time in launching The Martian premise from scene one.
NASA’s Ares III mission is cut short when a storm sweeps in on SOL 18. During a forced abort a piece of flying debris hits Watney, and the crew are left believing his suit was compromised and proceed with the abort.
Stranded, Watney does what any bearded space pirate would do. Why, plant potatoes in poo and communicate with NASA through hexadecimal coding of course: such is the brilliance of the writing. If there’s one thing we learn from The Martian it’s that astronauts can be incredibly resourceful.
Despite the unfathomable genius, it’s the believability of the tale that draws the viewer in and Goddard and Scott are careful to ensure this isn’t wasted on the viewer. We’re not meant to understand the maths, theory, or practical application of rocket science and so the esoteric dialogue is made wholly believable by the sheer fact that it doesn’t pander to an ignorant audience. We know we don’t understand it all but this isn’t a documentary for BBC Science.
Watney is written with such incredible and, frankly laudable, clarity to the extent that in bringing him to life Matt Damon’s impeccable performance feels effortless. Much is to say that the casting is spot on throughout. Jessica Chastain reprises her association with sci-fi, Kate Mara redeems herself after the weary Fantastic Four while Michael Peña returns with a flavour of his Ant-Man role, even if it is significantly muted.
Having said that, some of the best dialogue takes place between Damon and Peña and is always a welcome relief to the impending melancholia that Scott is careful to avoid. With anachronistic disco tunes spinning, The Martian toys with the Guardians of the Galaxy formula to great effect. Assuring the viewer that this is no Apollo 13.
Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, Director of NASA, with smart precision and Kristen Wiig’s role, although limited, makes for a comforting face amongst a busy cast in constant motion. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays his usual staring-into-the-distance face to the brink of extinction but his presence is never overplayed. Sean Bean’s casting feels forced, purely for a hilarious Council of Elrond reference, whilst Donald Glover’s sleep deprived genius is worthy of special mention. Each character plays a pivotal role in maintaining a pastiche of comedic seriousness.
Watney’s anguish is felt in the lonely moments, letting his hopeful facade down at just the right moments to remind the viewer that while his scientific achievements are phenomenal, space is a crual mistress. A note dutifully touched upon in the closing sequences.
Damon’s impeccable performance and Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard’s collaboration to bring Andy Weir’s awesome tale to the big screen make The Martian a Must-see.