Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sean Bean
Runtime: 141 minutes
The red planet is no stranger to cinematic visitors, but nothing has committed it to film so strikingly as Ridley Scott's The Martian.
When a mission to Mars is thrown into jeopardy by the threat of an oncoming dust storm, team leader Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) orders that her crew abort the mission and head home. However, during the furious maelstrom, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and lost to the rest of the crew. Presumed dead, Watney awakens to find himself alone on the hostile planet with only that were supplies left behind for survival.
Without a way to contact NASA, Watney must 'science the shit' out of his situation and find a way to sustain himself on Mars until help arrives - however long that may be.
When you look down Ridley Scott's filmography, compelling titles continue to jump out; Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down - and now, The Martian. He's had a few tricky years - The Counsellor and Exodus: Gods and Kings were both stinkers - but The Martian sees Scott back at his blockbuster best. Simply put, it's his best film in a long, long ass time.
Despite a huge all-star cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover and Sebastian Stan, The Martian sees Drew Goddard masterfully adapt Andy Weir's original novel into something simple and streamlined. The film might be bursting at the seams with acting talent and span the solar system but it also feels small and personal at the same time.
Of course, the film wouldn't be anywhere as good if the key element - Damon - wasn't up to scratch. Whilst Matt played second fiddle to another Matt in 2014's sci-fi epic Interstellar, The Martian is all about him and his acting ability. On his own for the bulk of the film (and not even a volleyball to keep him company), Damon exudes warmth and humour as Watney. That's not to say he doesn't display range (the darker and more desperate moments hit really hard), I'm just saying the real winning aspect to his character is the bright humour and hopefulness. Scott uses the concept of video logs to chart Watney's progress, as well as give Damon the chance to flash that cheeky grin of his.
The film also succeeds in crafting a genuine team dynamic between the crew; Chastain fits the mould as their determined leader, whilst Pena plays the witty pilot (why is it always the pilot that gets the gags?). Despite the limited screen time they have, the crew of the Hermes all gel together and feel well realised; Scott even finds time to squeeze in a little romance for two of them.
Even the political drama happening back at home is engaging; Daniels, Ejiofor, Wiig and Bean continually butt heads over how to tackle the mission, and what they should tell the public. I found that Wiig sort of faded into the background (with a cast this big, it had to happen to somebody) but Ejiofor and Bean make their mark on the film. There's a really great gag about Lord of the Rings that includes Sean Bean that fans will get a kick out of.
Visually, the film is absolutely stunning; the vast Martian landscapes (the film was shot on location in Jordan) feel tangible almost like you can feel the harsh elements scorching your skin. Also, critically, the film doesn't 'jump the shark'; the science and the problem-solving feels credible whilst remaining simple and easy-to-understand for the audience.
Plus, the soundtrack is absolutely mint; it's jam-packed with some choice 70's disco tunes, from David Bowie to Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer and (of course) some ABBA. Seriously, if you don't leave this film with a great big grin plastered across your face, you need to see a doctor. The uplifting story and pro-human message is a hugely welcome change of pace amongst the current cinema climate of po-faced superheroes and blockbusters.
The Verdict: 9.5/10
The Martian sees Ridley Scott make a long overdue return to brilliance; the huge cast and slick screenplay are just the tip of the iceberg in this soaring triumph. Come for the cast, stay for the witty humour and bright, cheerful tone.
The Martian is in cinemas across Australia now.