My Rating: [usr 3.5]
Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian is a fantastic, visually stunning sci-fi adventure that manages to easily differentiate itself from other thematically similar recent sci-fi films by adopting a sincere optimistic tone that reminds of epic space films like Apollo 13.
I must admit, going into this film, I didn’t really know that much what to expect. Ridley Scott has made some fantastic films, and overall I am a fan of his, but he has at times been inconsistent (A Good Year, Robin Hood, Exodus: Gods and Kings). However, The Martian is easily the most purely entertaining Ridley Scott film in years. Scott shows a commendable light touch throughout.
Another excellent thing about The Martian, is that through star Matt Damon’s award worthy performance, it will likely encourage young kids to open the books and become more involved in science and space. NASA probably couldn’t ask for a better recruiting film — and unlike Hollywood disguised military recruitment war films — this is a good recruitment.
Matt Damon’s movie star presence is on full display here. I get the feeling that Damon is a bit underappreciated as an actor/movie star. He has an Oscar for screenwriting, co-shared with his buddy Batfleck, but as an actor his work has largely been ignored in terms of appreciation for him as a screen persona. The first third of the movie is literally a one man Matt Damon show. His character Mark Watney uses his smarts to overcome certain death, while maintaining a true sense of excitement, rather than dread.
After the first forty minutes or so, the movie opens up and becomes an equally impressive ensemble drama, as mission control works together to try and bring their boy home. You really get as sense of what team effort space exploration is with all sides being explored — including: engineering, astrophysics, political deceit, and even publicity.
Everyone in the cast is top notch, including Jeff Daniels as the NASA director, and Kristen Wiig (perfectly cast) as NASA’s public relations spin doctor. The second half of the film largely shows the attempt by Damon’s crew — lead by the always impressive Jessica Chastain — to save Watney and bring him home. A nice touch the film has: Chastain’s character loves disco music, so therefore Damon’s character is stuck on Mars with music like ABBA’s Greatest Hits to lift his spirits. The film also makes great musical use of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, which got a big laugh from the usually reserved press screening I was at.
Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, and Sebastian Stan, all get great little character moments, and one of the most refreshing things to see is how this film manages to spread the love to all it’s ensemble members, and still remain cohesive as a story of one man’s survival.