Ridley Scott and Matt Damon team up for a space-based drama that’ll make you chuckle
Ridley Scott’s best film in years, The Martian possesses something almost no other space-set drama does: laughs. Typically, if a movie character is left alone in space they will, quite fairly, scream, cry, or stare morosely into the endless universe as death waits to claim them. Not Mark Watney. He sasses the universe into submission.
Watney (Matt Damon) is the botanist faction of a Mars exploration crew, which also includes Interstellar’s Jessica Chastain, Transcendence’s Kate Mara and Captain America’s Sebastian Stan – in the future, ugly people are not allowed outside Earth’s atmosphere. When a freak storm separates Watney from the crew, they assume him to be dead and make a hasty escape from the red planet. But Watney is alive, if partly broken, and now needs to survive with minimal supplies until NASA realises he’s still breathing and comes to get him, in four years or so. As Watney puts it in one of many sarcastic video diaries, in order to survive he’s going to have to “science the sh*t out of it”.
Unlike the broadly similar Gravity, The Martian is not an action film. Brains are much more important than brawn as Watney is repeatedly faced with life-threatening situations and has to boy scout his way out of them with little more than a roll of tape and a refusal to die. If that sounds a potentially dry watch, it’s not. Watney’s gallows humour, and Damon’s relaxed, charismatic performance, make Watney’s fight against death curiously fun.
Scott gives the film tension by cutting between Watney, the devastated remaining crew on their morose trip home and the stressed geniuses at NASA trying to work out how you rescue a man you’ve no hope of reaching until well after he’s dead. That mix of fear, sadness and humour makes for a very emotional, human work about what one life means, even that of a stranger. As treacly as it gets towards the end, which is really almost a requirement for a ‘space is dangerous’ flick, it’s refreshing to see a film in which the hero is not the bravest, biggest or loudest, but a sarky plant nerd who probably endured quite a few wedgies at school.
Director: Ridley Scott