Ridley Scott delivers a thrilling film and a faithful adaptation of the bestselling 2011 novel. The Martian is fallible, but with Matt Damon delivering a strong and varied performance, you probably won’t care too much about the problems that blight many of the supporting characters.
The Martian follows a crew of astronauts who have to abort their research mission on Mars due to a storm and the situation worsens when Mark Watney is inadvertently left for dead. Watney then must “science the shit out of this” in order to survive in the face of overwhelming odds.
We are thrown straight into the action on Mars and the rich landscapes coupled with the visually exhilarating storm sequence make the opening scenes a joy to behold. We are dragged down by some clunky exposition, nevertheless once this is endured Damon comes into his own.
The vast majority of Damon’s scenes are by himself and this allows a convincing delivery which showcases the euphoric highs and overwhelming lows of the desperate struggle we witness. Damon is at his best when Watney is struggling to carry on, yet for a man stranded on Mars this doesn’t happen too often. Watney’s lack of human interaction isn’t explored enough, this is a waste considering what Damon achieved without even fleshing out the intense loneliness the character would be experiencing. Another theme which, again, is only just touched upon, is family. Watney mentions his family once and they are never seen. The possibility of seeing his wife or child as a driving force for survival would have undoubtedly made the character even easier to root for. Scott may not have gone down this path in order to avoid similarities being made between The Martian and Interstellar (a film where Matt Damon is also marooned on a planet).
However, we still root for the likeable Watney due to the refreshing comedy and brilliant delivery from Damon who manages to make being 150 million miles from home often hilarious. This humorous tone is epitomized by a soundtrack including: Starman by David Bowie and Hot stuff by Donna Summer. The script, by screenwriter Drew Goddard, for a sci-fi film, is packed with humour and while most of it works perfectly to break up the long science based sequences, when used with the secondary characters it all too often falls flat. The secondary characters nearly always fall flat due to the sheer amount of them. Scott wanted realism and one way he achieves this is by showing space exploration to be a global endeavour. Subsequently, we are overwhelmed with so many characters on earth that none of them have any room to breathe or develop.
Jessica Chastain as the leader of the crew delivers an understated yet powerful portrayal; which suggests her character deserved much more screen time. The responsibility and culpability of being leader for Chastain bookmarks the film fantastically to give the audience the emotional payoff that is deserved. It is a credit to the film that it can deliver such a rewarding arc for a character who is rarely seen and this allows Damon the screen time to dominate the film.
Watney faces challenge after challenge which he must overcome using his ingenuity and knowledge of science. The stakes are constantly being heightened which succeeds in keeping the tension and suspense. This is needed as there is a chance the audience are going to get desensitised to Watney always finding a way to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
Ridley Scott’s “love letter to science” will keep you laughing and excited whilst being visually treated to the landscape of Mars. Most of the secondary characters are underdeveloped and some themes are not fully realised meaning it isn’t a love letter to characterisation. Yet, Damon’s emphatic performance more than compensates and contributes to what is overall a great film.