The Martian is Ridley Scott’s best film in nearly 15 years. Part science lesson, part Robinson Crusoe drama, this is exciting and engaging filmmaking that reminds you just how good the seminal sci-fi director can be with the right script and the right story.
Helping this Matt-Damon-left-on-Mars survival thriller is a who’s who of acting, producing and writing talent. From producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Sherlock Holmes) to screenwriter Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods, Daredevil), there’s no weak link.
The crew that accidentally leave Damon’s biologist Mark Watney on the red planet – Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie – are good enough to warrant their own spin-off movie (though that would make absolutely no sense), while the NASA bods back home are similarly strong, notably space programme head honcho Jeff Daniels, PR guru Kristen Wiig and Mars mission supervisor Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Worthy of particular attention is Benedict Wong’s (Netflix’s Marco Polo, The IT Crowd) probe designer, who like the rest of the cast manages to make the seemingly deadly dull – sorry, real-life probe designers – as exciting as, um, Street Countdown.
Matt Damon should take the lion’s share of the praise, however, as his easy A-list charisma is the jet fuel that powers the whole film. This is a man who makes crop farming fun, solar panel management thrilling and the recycling of human waste genuinely interesting. A lot of this is down to author Andy Weir, who wrote the novel the film is based on, but Damon sells the science like no-one else could, earning belly laughs from the driest of topics.
If you’re looking to visit Mars, incidentally, head to Wadi Rum in Jordan – ironically also called “Valley of the Moon” – where director of photography Dariusz Wolski (The Crow, Pirates of the Caribbean) shot practical backdrops for the film. Please note: Matt Damon won’t be there.
With so much theoretical physics and maths to convey to the audience in an entirely unpatronising manner, it really is a minor miracle that most viewers don’t nod off like they did during double chemistry. But through inspired editing, beautiful cinematography and a well-honed script, if you’re willing, you’ll be won over.
Unfortunately, the film’s worthiness is both what makes it so good and so potentially off-putting. For the many who find science in all its forms appallingly boring, The Martian won’t change your mind, no matter how hard it tries. Not even Community‘s Donald Glover as a highly eccentric astrophysicist waggling a stapler – read: a spaceship – in Jeff Daniels’ face will win round everyone, so if the words “ASCII tables” make you fear for your life, run away now.
But if you’ve ever accidentally enjoyed an episode of Tomorrow’s World or are just willing to be swept along, this is one of the best blockbusters out in 2015 (if you can call any movie where Matt Damon spends a decent chunk of screentime eating potatoes a blockbuster).
Having said that, be prepared for occasional unavoidable lulls as the practicalities of Martian housekeeping slow things down. Still, judging by Scott’s work here,
Prometheus 2 Alien: Paradise Lost may actually be something worth looking forward to.