The Martian is not just the best film director Ridley Scott has made in the last ten years, it’s arguable one of his greatest ever perhaps only third to Blade Runner and Alien. While Scott is known for bringing one of the most lethal and iconic movie monsters to the silver screen you’ll find no such extra-terrestrial twist here instead The Martian is purely about a man being forced to, in Mark Watney’s own words, “science the shit out of Mars”.
The film’s long run time, is fortunately balanced out by the excellent pacing of the film. The Martian eats up the best part of two and a half hours but the frequently changing locations and character perspectives help keep the experience fresh. Watney’s struggle for survival is told from not only his point of view but also that of mission control back on Earth and his crewmates who are slowly making their way home after presuming Watney dead back on the red planet.
The very human concept of survival always makes for compelling cinema but what really elevates The Martian above similarly themed movies is just how likeable Mark Watney is, thanks in large part to a winning performance from Matt Damon. Watney approaches the situation with humour and an unflappability that instantly endears him to the audience, even when everything is going wrong he never for a second considers giving up. Surprisingly there isn’t even a shoehorned in girlfriend/wife back home, Watney’s motivation is a pure desire to remain alive as long as possible regardless of the odds.
If Gravity was somewhat of an appetizer, due to its large narrative shortcomings, then The Martian is the entrée with a satisfying desert thrown in for good measure. Across almost all areas the film excels; visuals included which even rival Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 crowd pleaser. Not since 2001: A Space Odyssey has a science fiction film been so jaw droppingly beautiful, even on Earth the film’s cinematography shines with the convoluted and chrome offices of NASA being wonderfully brought to life and these scenes are the film’s weakest from a visual perspective, The Martian really is a looker.
Matt Damon gives an arguably career best performance, perhaps a necessity as so much of the film rests on his shoulders, and the large, and extremely impressive, ensemble cast follow his lead each delivering clever, compelling and often nuanced performances. Jessica Chastain in particular is excellent as the commander of the space shuttle, whose guilt at leaving Watney behind (though it’s obviously not her fault) results in her being willing to take any action in order to bring him home. Michael Peña and Kate Mara rounded out the crew both giving the film a little something extra.
Back in Houston there’s a quite remarkable performance from Jeff Daniels’ as the director of the world famous aeronautics organisation. Though Daniels may be the closest thing the film has to a “bad guy”, wisely he is never villainised all his actions are perfectly justifiable even if Sean Bean’s Mitch can’t see that. Chiwetel Ejiofor is enjoyable as the man in charge of the mission, even if his character is lacking anything unique, and even Kristen Wiig is pretty good as NASA’s head of PR. It’s rare that such a large cast, with likely several inflated egos, all manage to complement each other so perfectly but The Martian is such an uncommon breed.
There is very little that can be held against The Martian, simply coming up with some form of criticism that can’t be deemed petty is practically impossible. In a year that will see the return of the one of the biggest franchises not just in science fiction but the whole movie industry I can still confidently say that The Martian is the best sci fi movie of 2015, don’t do yourself the disservice of missing it.