This review may contain minor spoilers.
Going in to Ridley Scott’s The Martian, I really wasn’t expecting a lot. Despite Scott being one of my favourite directors of all time, his endeavours as of late have been underwhelming to say the least, and I’ve never really been a fan of Matt Damon, so it’s safe to say I was pretty sceptical. If you’re currently in the same situation as I was, I wholeheartedly urge you to go and watch The Martian, because it is truly one of the best cinema experiences of 2015.
The Martian stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut and botanist stranded on Mars after he is separated from the rest of his team during a storm. They head home, assuming the worst, while Mark has to carve a life out for himself on the Red Planet while NASA try to get him home.
I don’t really want to go much deeper into the plot than that, because this really is one of those films where you’re better off going in blank. I’d gone in having seen two trailers, and even just that short an amount of time put me at a disadvantage because most of the film’s good (and appropriate) jokes are used in those previews. Despite that, I found the plot of The Martian to be simply fantastic. It’s one of the best-written films of the year in my opinion, with realistic and entertaining dialogue that made this films 140-minute run time go by a breeze. That said, very little of the film’s running time is given to developing characters, particularly the astronauts actually up in space, so it was a very wise decision by the filmmakers to never actually kill any of them off, because the viewer simply wouldn’t be fussed.
That said, the plot really was great and had some really interesting elements. There’s some great contrasting throughout between the bubbly, playful scenes of Watney alone on Mars and the dog-eat-dog politics going on in NASA, all of which are anchored thanks to some wonderful performances and great, but slighty shallow, writing.
Regarding all the space stuff, I found it really intriguing, especially the plan to retrieve Watney from Mars. The final 30 minutes or so begins to feel like a heist movie, and it’s truly thrilling and exhilerating watching the audacious plan play out. The only film I can compare The Martian to is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but that’s not a fair comparison either because they are both really different. The latter definitely goes for a more grounded, scientific and bleaker mood, whereas The Martian is a lot more upbeat and a little bit more zany, but it still has deliciously dark and tense moments that will have you watching through your hands.
As I said, the characters in The Martian aren’t fantastically written, with even the main players being a little shallow for my liking, but luckily the performances from most of the cast rectify this entirely. For those that don’t know, I’m really not a huge fan of Matt Damon, by which I mean his performances can sometimes be as wooden as a tree, but here I have to be honest and say that his performance was absolutely spellbinding. His performance is at times downright hilarious and he delivers his lines with conviction and gravitas when required. He definitely holds the film together, and I highly doubt that many actors working these days could have the panache and pure talent to perform alone for the best part of a 140-minute film. But the good performances definitely don’t end there. Even though Damon may technically be the best one there, my personal favourite performance is easily Donald Glover as Rich Purnell. Even though he’s on-screen for approximately 11 minutes, his role is instrumental to the film’s plot, and he handles this responsibility with such conviction and confidence, giving one of the film’s best performances and outshining even esteemed actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor (but he was really great too). Glover is easily my favourite young actor currently working, and seeing the pure talent here gives me great hope for the future. The rest of the cast was very good, with great turns from Jessica Chastain as Lewis, Ant-Man‘s Michael Peña as Martinez, and Sebastian Stan as Beck. The one performance that wasn’t quite up to scratch in my opinion was Kate Mara as Johansson, and although she was by no means bad, her character wasn’t given a whole lot to do so she was never really given the chance to figuratively flex her muscles.
Behind the scenes, The Martian is just as much a marvel as it is in front of the camera. Ridley Scott’s direction is simply wonderful, a great return to form for the legendary director, and at points this film really reminded me of my favourite Scott film, Alien. From the broad establishing shot at the start to the slow removal of the film’s title in the opening credits to the subtle nods in the score to some of Alien‘s beats, it really made me fall in love with this film even more. The CGI is also spectacular, especially the space ships and the beautiful landscapes of our solar system, which looked so really and absolutely stunning. The score is also magical and really ramps up the tension when needs be, which compliments this films expertly.
Despite some really underdeveloped characters, The Martian is one of my favourite films of the year thanks to its spellbinding plot, magnificent performances and truly masterful direction. If you dislike Matt Damon, you most certainly won’t after seeing this. The Martian is Ridley Scott’s best film in years and one of the best space movies of all time.