Review: The Martian

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With a brilliant performance by Matt Damon, and a stunning return to form for director Ridley Scott, The Martian is one of the best space-films to be made in years.

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Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian – based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir – is, to be quite frank, phenomenal. It may well be the best hard sci-fi, extra-terrestrial film since Moon. Certainly it is one of the best films of this year. Managing to combine the spectacular visuals and white-knuckle thrills that so often dominate space based cinema with humour, heart, and just a general sense of fun, The Martian is if nothing else, a brilliantly well-rounded film.

Telling the story of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as he is stranded alone on Mars and forced to survive for over a year, and of the host of people who work tirelessly to rescue him, portrayed by, in no particular order, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, and Jeff Daniels, it’s fair to say that The Martian doesn’t lack in acting talent.

The whole cast perform well together, especially Chastain and Ejiofor, who give their supporting roles the kind of performance to be expected of such high calibre actors. The film’s best performance, of course though, comes from leading man Damon, who pulls out all the stops to give a breath-taking run as Mark Watney. He inhabits the role, exuding wit and charm and optimism, and releasing brief, staggering outbursts of emotion. He doesn’t play up his character’s bleak situation – there’s no overwrought chewing of the scenery – instead displaying a veneer of resolve barely covering the strained desperation of a man consistently inches from death.

The visuals are of similar quality – sweeping shots of the Martian landscape; awe-inspiring glimpses that make desolation beautiful – when the film takes us to Earth, to the goings on at NASA while Watney battles for survival on Mars, the contrast between the two planets is almost haunting to behold.

With a plot as simple as possible, Ridley Scott is free to focus on making everything else about the film as close to perfect as it can be. The acting and visuals have already been mentioned, and as with those, everything just works exactly as it should, all slotting together to create a brilliant adaptation of Weir’s novel. Like Gone Girl, the film may not be a beat-for-beat recreation of its source material – it is instead a near perfect reproduction of the book’s tone; an optimistic, inquisitive bubbliness, undercut with the constant threat of impending doom.

It would be remiss not to mention the music in the film – either its score or its soundtrack (disco, lots and lots of disco) – which goes a long way towards making The Martian as good as it is. Eschewing grand set-pieces (with the exception of the film’s climactic moments), the plot is driven instead by swells in the music, or by brilliantly placed pieces of soundtrack (the aforementioned disco) as Watney encounters and overcomes one life-threatening problem after another.

All in all, The Martian is a wonderful film – injecting some much needed humour into the space-thriller – and, though it may be spearheaded by a career-high performance from Matt Damon, it is really the product of a blending of perfectly made parts; it would be a struggle to highlight any aspect of the film as being flawed or requiring improvement.

The Martian is a film where a man defies the odds to the sound of ABBA, where innovation and intelligence are lauded instead of laughed away. Most importantly, it is a film that offers an infectious, giddily optimistic look at humanity – it’s a film that says “look what we can do, what we can really do, if we all try”; that captures a pioneering spirit of man which has been missing for some time; that makes you look up and recall the childish desire to be a space-man.

The Martian (2015), directed by Ridley Scott, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 12A. 

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A 3rd year English student who likes staring at all the pretty moving pictures. Also books, I suppose. I do take English after all

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