Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Drew Goddard
Stars: Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
Released: 2 October 2015
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Science fiction
Running time: 2 h 24 min
No spoilers to be found here!
Some directors seem to fit very well with certain genres. Christopher Nolan with mind-bending thrillers, Edgar Wright with physical comedy and Ridley Scott with science fiction. While I like a lot of his other efforts, he always seems to be in his prime with this genre in particular. He understands it and always creates something interesting. The Martian is the work of a science-fiction veteran, every aspect of it is executed almost perfectly. Despite lacking some ambition, which keeps it from reaching higher levels, The Martian is an excellent movie from a passionate director.
When a manned mission to Mars is abruptly aborted, astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is presumed dead and left on the planet. The director of Mars operations Vincent Kapoor (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) along with the entire NASA is then shocked to find out that Watney did not die and is very much alive back on Mars. The movie then chronicles the mission to bring Mark Watney back alive.
The story and overall screenplay of The Martian is one of it’s greatest assets. After an exhilarating opening scene, the movie is quick to introduce characters and situations and then immediately put them to use for a compelling narrative. From start to finish, you are invested, sometimes on the edge of your seat and never bored. We spend the majority of our time with Matt Damon’s Mark Watney as he is trying to survive on the cold planet. Matt completely owns this role and his performance manages to keep the audience engaged throughout the entire runtime, most of it single-handedly. He is clever, creative and most of all, optimistic. As he constantly says throughout the movie, he is in a bad situation, but he will not die here. He then goes on to solve one problem after another, sometimes succeeding sometimes failing, but always with a smirk. He just never gives up, and he cracks jokes about his situation constantly. These traits makes Watney a very likable character, easy to root and feel sad for when the situation requires. Matt Damon manages to channel all sides of Mark Watney perfectly to the screen, making for one of the more compelling characters for quite some time.
This movie really is the love child of Apollo 13 and Castaway. There is a lot of interplay between Watney and NASA, creating a similar feeling to Apollo 13. But The Martian also features a lot scenes when Watney is just trying to survive as best as he can, alá Castaway. The movie mostly follows two storylines, Watney on Mars and the NASA team on Earth. This is your typical astronaut-Houston relationship, but as with everything else in the movie, it’s so well made. The team on earth is 6-7 people big, and every single one is memorable and unique in their own way. The persons in charge are aforementioned Vincent Kapoor and NASA director Teddy Sanders (played by Jeff Daniels). While both actors turn in great performances, their characters do seem a tad familiar. But in the grand scheme of things this really doesn’t become an issue, as they are really well written and portrayed. As for the rest of the NASA-team, everybody does a great job and each and every character, no matter how small, gets their own time to shine. None of them are as prevalent or memorable as Watney, but they are just really well made. While it’s thrilling to watch Watney do science and fixing things, the NASA-portions of the movie are equally good. It’s very intriguing to follow them as they try to salvage the situation the best they can.
The movie is also laugh out loud funny, constantly. I did not expect this at all, but I laughed so often throughout the movie, I almost consider it a comedy. But the jokes never detract from the drama of the narrative, it’s just used as a way to ease a really bad situation, as a lot of people would do.
Summing up everything about the screenplay of the movie, the plot and characters for The Martian are simply masterful, maybe the best survival-story I have ever seen (would need to revisit Apollo 13 to be sure). All the different characters are well utilized, they have great chemistry and most importantly you believe them in their respective roles. It is fast paced, but slows down when it needs to, and is always a blast to watch.
This may be the prettiest Mars has ever been on the silver screen. Ridley uses slow, panning long shots to show the emptiness of the Martian plains and it’s truly immersive, almost making you feel like you are on Mars. The movie features a lot of video logs by Matt Damon, akin to the ones in Avatar, and used much in the same way. There is a lot of information that the audience needs to know, and since Watney can’t talk to anyone else, it makes perfect sense for him to do these logs. It could be considered cheating, but sometimes the easiest way is the best and the video logs do their jobs just fine.
Another surprisingly good aspect of the movie is the soundtrack. The only music Watney has access to is 80:s disco-music, which brings a lot of the comedy since he hates 80:s disco-music. But after you laughed at the jokes, you realize that the music fits really well with the movie, much more so than you standard orchestrated score. Much like the movie itself, the music is energetic, fast-paced and a lot of fun, a perfect match for The Martian.
As you may have noticed, The Martian has a lot of great aspects, but one that stuck out to me was the sheer attention to details in its execution. This is partly thanks to the screenplay, but I think a lot of credit should go to director Ridley Scott, a true science fiction-veteran. What he displays here is something I can only describe as instinctive feel for film making. The movie is both funny and dramatic exactly when it needs to and the more thrilling scenes go on for exactly the right amount of time. The ending credits also perfectly rounds out the movie and makes for a very satisfying conclusion. You can tell that Scott knows and loves what he is doing and really does the best possible job that he could have done.
Since I have done nothing else than to gush all over The Martian, you readers might even think that this is some kind of masterpiece. Well, it isn’t. Throughout this review I have found myself repeat a lot of the same thoughts. It may not be original, but it is really well made. It feels like that was the entire concept of the movie. Take a fairly well-known scenario and characters, spice them up and then execute it as well as you possibly can. And that is for me, the biggest issue with it, it feels very much like a paint by the dots movie. They did maybe the best science-fiction survival movie ever made, but similar movies has been done before. They didn’t even try to do anything new with this one, they just wanted to perfect an existing concept. This makes The Martian a bit predictable and is lesser for it.
The Martian is a continually wonderfully executed movie that succeeds on all fronts. The story is gripping and dramatic, while and the same time being hilarious. Every single character and respective actor/actress are well-written and give great performances, but the standout is Matt Damon as Mark Watney. He almost single-handedly holds up the entire movie and is gripping the entire way through. The character goes through so much and Matt Damon nails every single aspect of him. The movie looks gorgeous with long, sweeping shots of the Martian plains with some surprising but very fitting music. Ridley Scott is in his prime and polishes the movie to absolute perfection. But The Martian is not a masterpiece. While it succeeds at most anything it does, what it does isn’t particularity creative or ambitious. They never tried to do something new with the genre, they just combined some old concepts and raised the stakes considerably. What if in a few years The Neptunian comes out, where the stakes are raised even higher and it is even better executed? Well, then The Martian wont really become anything special, overshadowed by newer movies with the benefit of hindsight and bigger budget. I want to be challenged in new ways, but with The Martian I knew exactly how my time was going to be spent. I had an amazing time though.
Cover image source: http://seradata.com/