THE MARTIAN (USA/12A/141mins)
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Askel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Kristen Wiig
THE PLOT: When a storm hits the planet, a NASA team on a mission to Mars evacuate, leaving Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind, believing him to have tragically died during the freak weather event. When the storm passes, and with the team on their way back to earth, Watney awakens stranded on an in hospitable planet, and must find a way to survive until he can be rescued.
THE VERDICT: There have been a slew of astronaut disaster movies on an epic scale over recent years – GRAVITY and INTERSTELLAR spring to mind – and although it could be said that The Martian is the missing chapter of INTERSTELLAR, it is an engaging and fun space flick, that is well paced, well put together and is elevated by Matt Damon’s stellar (sorry!) performance.
Damon is tenacious and warm at the centre of the film, and seems to survive being the last human on Mars by journaling, teasing the colleagues who abandoned him, and tackling his breathtaking problem one small issue at a time. Damon’s comedic timing is great, and although he is a scientist he speaks in common parlance, which makes the character warm and slightly playful. The crew that left him behind are made up of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Askel Hennie, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan. This group of the cast don’t have a lot to do, but they make their space odyssey interesting and the characters relatable. The team on earth comprises Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Wiig. Daniels also has the chance to show off his comic timing, Ejiofor is stubborn and smart, Bean rebellious, Wiig a company woman and Donald Glover channels his former scene partner Danny Pudi in his role as Abed in ‘Community’, but obviously enjoys doing so.
Drew Goddard’s screenplay, based on the book by Andy Weir, keeps all the cast relatable and warm, the tension ebbing and flowing and the audience rooting for a happy ending. It would have been all too easy for the film to get bogged down with the science and technicalities of a manned mission to Mars but, while there is certainly plenty of talk about both, this is done in a manner that feels accessible, without talking down to the audience. Damon’s character is warm, fun and relatable; perhaps an examination of how he survived the loneliness of being alone for so long would have benefitted the film in some ways, but this is addressed somewhat with the use of disco music and the communication between Watney and those trying to save him.
Ridley Scott returns to form as director; THE MARTIAN is well paced – 141 minutes zips past – and beautifully shot, and the use of disco music, teasing and the struggle to create food on an inhospitable planet bring a lightness to the film that was missing from some of those in the recent past. In fact, it is this lightness that makes The Martian so very entertaining, unpretentious and engaging.
In all, THE MARTIAN is beautifully shot, thrilling and engaging. 141 minutes glides by with plenty of glib quips, heart wrenching moments and genuine fear. The science is kept simple without being dumb, the music lightens the mood and Damon is as good as he has ever been, forming the emotional heart and soul of the film. THE MARTIAN is simply a thrilling ride that reminds us of the strength of the human spirit.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Martian
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0A Thrill Ride
  • filmbuff2011

    Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian is so much more than its basic plot description: Robinson Crusoe On Mars (which is an actual 1964 film). It’s a film that thrives on human ingenuity and the common instincts of survival and helping one another. It’s also a genuine crowd-pleaser. It begins straight away with the crew of the Ares mission conducting experiments on the red planet. During a violent Martian storm which threatens the safety of the crew, team leader Melissa (Jessica Chastain) makes the critical decision to abort the mission and evacuate the planet. Astronaut Mark (Matt Damon) is caught in the storm and hit with debris. With Mark presumed dead, the Ares crew take off and head for home. A short while later Mark wakes up in the sand, injured but very much alive. He returns to the habitat and does the maths on how long he can survive on this inhospitable, oxygen-free planet. It’s fortunate that he’s a botanist and figures out a way to grow potatoes and ration his supplies. Meanwhile, 50 million miles away on Earth, NASA director Teddy (Jeff Daniels) and senior staff Mitch (Sean Bean) and Vincent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) receive communications from Mark. But they withhold Mark’s status from the Ares crew. Thus begins an amazing, time-spanning journey to bring one man back home… Based on the novel by Andy Weir and adapted by Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel scribe Drew Goddard, The Martian poses an ingenious and thought-provoking ‘what if?’ scenario. What would you do if you were in Mark’s boots? Then Scott takes the answer to the next level, by weighing up the cost of saving Mark versus the cost of risking the lives of a rescue team. He also hardwires in hard science to make it all the more realistic. Often the butt of throwaway jokes, you’ll have a new-found appreciation for rocket scientists after this film. Less science fiction and more science realism, this is an intelligent film about human endeavour which also remembers to have fun. What keeps Mark going throughout his long stay on Mars is his wise-cracking sense of humour. Damon, playing a very different stranded astronaut to Interstellar’s Dr Mann, is ideal for the part. He’s the everyman we can all root for but he also has the dramatic chops to make an audience realise the danger of his character’s predicament. A strong supporting cast which also includes Kate Mara, Michael Pena and Kristen Wiig, round out the non-Mars segments and make this a truly global story. Filming partly in Wadi Rum, Jordan (Lawrence Of Arabia country) but with a distinctive Martian filter and colour correction, Scott brings his customary visual style and flair to the screen. It’s a visually spectacular film that should be seen on the big screen, but it’s also got a big heart. As Captain Kirk said to a dying Spock, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. The Martian is a triumph – great story, superb acting, intelligent science and an action-packed adventure. Out of this world. ****

  • emerb

    “The Martian” is Ridley Scott’s smartly made adaptation of Andy Weir’s best-selling novel. It tells the story of how US astronaut Mark Watney copes after being left for dead during a near-future manned mission to Mars when an enormous sandstorm compels his five fellow crewmates to abort their mission. Scott has done films in space before (“Alien”, “Prometheus”) but this time, he’s telling a straightforward survival story – an American astronaut, thought to be dead, who must use his own wits, sense of resourcefulness and command of physics to survive for months, while colleagues on Earth work on devising a rescue plan. This is Scott’s 23rd film as director and it is his most enjoyable for years – an enthralling, thrilling and realistic sci-fi, disaster movie and even an interesting character study. “The Martian” is consistently absorbing and ultimately both affirming and upbeat because it is a reminder of just what humans can accomplish when faced with life-threatening situations. It is a crowd pleaser suitable for all ages and delivers on all aspects of a really smart blockbuster.

    Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, an astro-botanist who is part of NASA’s Ares III manned mission to Mars. As the movie opens, NASA calls in an approaching storm, the Ares III team tries to evacuate, and Watney is blown away and evidently killed. The rest of the team are forced to abandon the mission, and Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) gives the order to head home, furious with herself for getting someone killed. What she has no way of knowing is that Watney is alive and just beginning an ordeal that would cause most people to simply give up and die. When he regains consciousness, he quickly assesses the dismal situation but he is a fighter and a scientist, and will not give up. By nature, he’s an upbeat, can-do, optimistic kind of guy and decides that he has no intention of dying, even though the next Mars mission from home isn’t due to arrive for another four years. He must survive on his wits and most of the early-going is devoted to him tallying up his supplies and making calculations as to how he can maximize his time on the arid planet. His ingenious tactics to stay alive create a constant sense of excitement and include, amongst other things, growing potatoes in human manure and rigging his rover for a dangerous journey across the planet. The claustrophobia and solitariness of his situation is shortly broken up by events back on Earth. Eventually Watney succeeds in making contact with mission control, allowing us to follow the desperate efforts of NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists to mount a reasonable rescue mission and the heroic actions of the mission commander Lewis and her crew aboard the mission’s mother ship. There are crisis meetings, hastily assembled press conferences and even interventions from a surprising foreign partner. While Watney may be stranded by himself on Mars, he’s anything but alone, with the best minds on Earth working overtime to bring him home. While they do everything they can, ultimately it comes down to the willingness of Mark’s astronaut colleagues to place themselves at great risk by attempting a very dangerous long-shot rescue attempt. For me, much of the joy of “The Martian” is watching highly intelligent humans work through unsolvable problems and succeeding, only to have bigger obstacles thrown in their path.

    Matt Damon is perfect cast as the plucky astronaut stranded with the upbeat, get-the-job-done attitude. Much of the movie relies on him alone on Mars but he is naturally charismatic so he’s good company and his physicality makes his capability entirely credible. He conveys strength, determination and intelligence as he is left to survive on his gardening skills, three years’ worth of potatoes and old episodes of Happy Days. The massive ensemble cast of A-list stars is a lively and individualistic group, although some of the characters are underused. T Donald Glover is enjoyable as an ultra-geeky computer genius, Mackenzie Davis as a satellite analyst and the ever-impressive Sean Bean as a wayward consultant. Kristen Wiig also has plenty of good small moments as does Michael Pena and Chewitel Ejiofor makes a strong impression as the mission leader.

    “The Martian” is both visually spectacular and consistently entertaining. It finds a way to bring Mars to visual life and I found it completely absorbing. Balanced by a good dose of humour and Damon’s effortless charm, the film delivers another striking vision of a distant planet but in a way which is comprehensible and engaging. While tense and suspenseful, screenwriter Drew Goddard imbues the story with wit, energy and an approach to the science that is graspable so we can understand what’s going on. Apparently Weir’s book is laden with technical assessments of food and oxygen supplies, mechanical capabilities, flight duration and the physics of inter-planetary travel, and the film respects all these details but brings them down to a manageable level for us mere mortals! This makes it feel unlike any of the other space films we have seen of late. I liked that the story is completely free of subplots or extraneous threads. We are purely focussed on Mark on Mars figuring out the next problem to solve, and everyone at NASA doing the same. At 141 minutes, it’s a bit long but I didn’t feel that took from the enjoyment of it at all. There are a number of strong and interesting uses of visual effects and this should help generate strong business worldwide. Anchored by another stellar turn from Damon, presented in crisp, beautifully shot and effectively used 3D, this technically accomplished adventure movie is one that you are well advised not to miss.

  • Randy

    As a fan of Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma & Louise, Kingdom of Heaven) but disappointed with his most recent output, I was putting high hopes on The Martian to once again re-introduce me to the master. I wasn’t disappointed. Scott has delivered a sprawling but intimate, edge-of-your seat space epic where 2 hours seem like minutes; unlike Interstellar which, while brilliant at times, lost my interest for most of its run. Featuring a great cast and “interesting” score, this is cinema at its finest. Mars is beautifully realized, using real locations in Jordan as well as huge sets in Budapest. The CGI feels tangible and real, just like Damon’s struggle to survivor, with his great sense of humor carrying him through. In turn, the film is as funny as it is touching an poignant. Highly recommended. Once you see it, check out the book, if you haven’t already. 5/5