Ridley Scott, Matt Damon and Childish Gambino. Sold.
The human condition and resolve is explored in Ridley Scott’s newest film, an adaptation of the Andy Weir novel, The Martian. Where other films about isolation have focused on the breakdown of humans in adverse conditions, Matt Damon’s Mark Watney instead looks resolutely ahead to overcome obstacles in his way after an accident leaves him stranded alone on Mars. With a running time over 2 hours, The Martian is an immersive experience that easily rivals similar space exploration films in recent years such as Gravity and Interstellar while also reminding us of classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film stands on its ability for the audience to empathise and connect with Damon’s Watney. For much of the runtime, Damon is alone on screen, our reference back to activities on Earth leading to develop his plight further. Watney is immensely likeable, he blends humour with an unflappable determination which is infectious and I found myself deeply invested in his safety. Many voiced concern about Damon playing another stranded astronaut after his surprise turn in Interstellar but there is no evidence of that role and it is no distraction in any way (same goes for Jessica Chastain).
The cast is near flawless across the board. Jeff Daniels stands out as the closest thing to a villain the film offers (apart from the red planet itself) as NASA chief Teddy Sanders, his rational negativity in a position of authority plays havoc with the progression of the plot while his willingness to take responsibility make him ultimately a heroic character. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Kristen Wiig all fit well in their roles with NASA while Donald Glover is criminally underused in a role he has been missing from since leaving Community. Watney’s crew is comprised of another slew of characters, most notably Michael Pena continuing his comedic turn after Ant Man and Jessica Chastain still not connecting with me in the way she seems to have with the world’s critics.
The Martian is a highly enjoyable film. The plot builds to a cohesive finale and most of the film rings true scientifically which enables you to hold on through the elongated running time. Damon and much of the cast are easily identifiable in their characters and are ultimately empathetic. It is perhaps not Ridley Scott’s best film, but when his bar is so high that's always going to be hard, but it is easily a return to form from a director who has defined genre’s and still stands head and shoulders above most.