Once upon a time, Ridley Scott made good movies. It’s been a while, so, when the trailer for The Martian hit the internet and theatres, expectations couldn’t have been higher. Yes, it kinda looks like a prequel to Interstellar; yes, you could say it’s basically Saving Private Ryan in space; still, take down the missing posters and call back the search efforts: Mr Scott has found his mojo again.
Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel by the same title, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), believed dead after a freaky storm forced his team to leave Mars in a hurry, but, surprise surprise, he ain’t dead suckers! From first accepting his imminent death to figuring out that survival is only at the distance of some very creative scientific thinking, the film is a roller-coaster as the smart people from NASA figure out he’s still alive, his crew is kept ignorant of his fate and he learns how to deal with Mars’ (literally) breathtaking environment, solitude and 80’s disco music. All this sprinkled with dead pan sarcasm, a galaxy worth of star power and science, bitches!
In the first five minutes, everything happens – no mumbo jumbo of character building, no “oh my daughter has been waiting for me on earth for the last 70 years” – we get in, we hear (more than see) Damon inside his astronaut suit, freaky storm comes, bam, bye Watney, spaceship leaves, and our hero wakes up covered in dirt, with dangerous low oxygen levels and a bit of the radio tower stuck in his belly. How does he find the strength to go on, with no way to communicate with Earth and limited supplies? He uses his head. That’s right, the biggest hero in this film is not the US, or Superman – The Martian tells us everything is possible if we make an effort to sort one problem at a time – and don’t mind touching our own poop.
The script, penned by The Cabin in the Woods writer/director Drew Goddard, is a delight. Forget the fact that NASA’s big rescue mission reminds you of the Apollo 13’s plot; nothing can compare with listening to Sean Bean (who, SPOILER ALERT, does not die in this film) making Lord of the Rings jokes, or Damon going full Iron Man and risking his own life for the sake of it. And speaking of Damon, the man, who is clearly being typecasted as the one who gets left behind to die in strange places, shows he is a hell of an actor. Think Sam Rockwell in Moon, only funny. The best botanist on the planet may be on the verge of dying an awful death many, many times, but his humour is immortal.
Apart from the very cheesy and unnecessary post-ending (yes, cheesier than playing “I will survive” during the final credits), The Martian is the ultimate Robinson Crusoe story for the 21st century. Hi Ridley Scott, we’ve missed you terribly. Now about those Prometheus sequels…
(as we type this, NASA announces there is water on Mars, rendering this whole film’s premise obsolete. Speak about outdated sci-fi…)
The Martian lands on UK cinemas on 30th September 2015