Following the garbled incoherence of The Counsellor and the lacklustre muddles of Exodus and Prometheus, there was every reason to expect that The Martian would be the latest in a now worryingly robust line of not-quite-there Ridley Scott malfunctions. The good news it that, despite a trailer that promised much in the way mirth-free techno babble, The Martian is actually a breezily cheerful and entertaining romp with the unexpected accompaniment of a dozen disco classics. Disarmingly fun, The Martian is perhaps not the movie you’d expect from its trailer and must rank as a first – an intentionally amusing Ridley Scott film.
Following a catastrophe during a manned mission to Mars, NASA astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself marooned on the planet with limited resources and dwindling supplies. He must find a way of keeping himself alive for the foreseeable future and make contact with Earth, while battling against the unpredictable Martian environment. It’s then a race for NASA’s scientists to concoct and executive a plan to bring the galactic Robinson Crusoe back home, all under the constant scrutiny of Earth’s media.
I was approaching something like dread as I filed into London’s May Fair Hotel to watch this. I was fairly sure that I was about to be confronted by two-and-a-half hours of indecipherable, impenetrable scientific jargon from a film that would wear its meticulous geek credentials with pride and revel in the technicalities and tiny details of the science.
Mercifully, Scott has produced a film that paints with fairly broad strokes and is, at times, quite happy to gloss over some of the more intricate details. The end result is a populist adventure yarn that feels infinitely more inclusive than I’d dare hope. Of course, some time and effort is spent in scrutinising the particulars of Watney’s plight and subsequent plan of attack – particularly an early dilemma regarding the planet’s lack of water – but it’s not a film that ever gets bogged down in procedure. By the final act we’re essentially in full-blown montage-mode, illustrating our course of action with a stapler and a pen and reassured that the Earth’s smartest people are ironing out any kinks in the plan.
The lynchpin is a likeable performance from Damon who plays up his approachable, everyman quality and is supported by a wry script that emphasises deadpan humour. Seeing as much of the film revolves around watching Matt Damon potter around in a tent on what is, in effect, a very expensive allotment, the end product was always going to live and die by its central performance. The film’s humour and likeability of its protagonist ensure that what might have been a cloying celebration of the triumph of human endeavour is actually a thoroughly entertaining one.
Scott dips into schmaltzy cliché towards the end, veering into post-Apollo 13, shaking of hands and clapping of backs territory, but it’s not quite enough to truly burst the bubble of excitement that he’s constructed. Exhilarating and with genuine humour, The Martian is Scott’s most freely enjoyable film for some time and a welcome surprise.
Sci-fi, Adventure | USA, 2015 | 12A | Universal Pictures | 30th September 2015 (UK) | Dir.Ridley Scott | Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong