After a fierce windstorm sweeps through Mars, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead. The rest of this six-member crew from NASA’s Mars mission makes an emergency departure, leaving Mark alone on Mars, with limited food and water. Inspired by the book by scientist Andy Weir, The Martian is a human survival story that avoids cliches and is surprisingly funny. What many call a crossover between Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014), The Martian manages to stand uniquely on its own.
Legend has it that before directing The Conjuring (2013), director James Wan wrote a list of horror movie cliches and ensured they didn’t feature in his film. Ridley Scott may as well have done the same, as he makes his comeback with another science fiction film, more optimistic than his last. The expected problems associated with living alone 140 million miles away from home (as the posters boast) do arise, but are dealt in unique and what seem like realistic ways. For someone not well versed in astrophysics, there is a lot of science speak in this film, but it seemed like it made logical sense. Every action seemed to be accompanied with appropriate and realistic consequences.
There were quite a few far-fetched and questionable plot developments however, as expected in popular cinema. Some of your stereotypical disorganized, disrespectful yet genius NASA employees do make an appearance. At the same time though, this film is profoundly human. It makes time for introspective reflection and the general sense of awe and pride in risking your life doing something you love, in the vastness of the universe and in being the first to accomplish something.
The Martian is also surprisingly funny, filled with pop-culture references and friendly bickering. Light-hearted, humorous moments keep the tone optimistic, for what could potentially be a rather bleak and dark film. However, the humour also deters The Martian from achieving the sense of desolation other survivor films like 127 Hours (2010) achieve, whether or not it intended to. Self documenting videos make Mark’s loneliness a conversation with the audience and the constant change in setting from the picturesque Mars to NASA’s control room add to this. Save a few moments, there is seemingly little frustration that is fully conveyed. This “thriller” failed to get my adrenaline pumping or make my heart skip a beat.
This film features a well-equipped supporting star cast that fit into their respective roles seamlessly. Jessica Chastain deserves her own applause, delivering another respectable performance as a woman of authority after Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Matt Damon delivers a gripping performance as a botanist, who at a point remarks how he is the first person to be alone on an entire planet. This marks a return to form for both Ridley Scott and Matt Damon, who have both had rather underwhelming careers in recent years. This film is well-executed, fast-paced and visually stunning. It is not as complex as Interstellar but still has more plot than Gravity. It is not the greatest survival story, but is worth a watch for sci-fi and non sci-fi fans alike.