The Martian (M)

In a word: Slick

The Martian

Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney in The Martian

"This is, at its essence, a survival movie a la the Tom Hanks’ vehicle, Cast Away, and the fact that Mars is so big in the headlines at the moment only serves to give it added resonance."

The makers of The Martian must have been delighted with this week’s announcement of evidence pointing to the presence of liquid water on Mars, an announcement which put Mars once again firmly in the spotlight of the world’s attention.

Particularly given, in a similar vein to Gravity, The Martian represents an attempt to make a “realistic” film about space exploration (that is, not one about nasty aliens invading) which celebrates man’s resilience in the face of overwhelming odds and in the most unlikely of circumstances.

In The Martian, Matt Damon stars as astronaut and botanist Mark Watney, part of a mission charged with collecting samples on Mars when a storm sweeps over their part of the planet, forcing the team, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), to evacuate. Needless to say, Watney gets left behind after he is struck by debris and thought to be dead.

But Watney, it turns out, isn’t dead, and with only limited supplies, he has to draw on every ounce of ingenuity he has to survive while millions of kilometres across the void of space, NASA scientists on Earth work on the problem of how to bring him home and what role, if any, the returning crew could play in that.

This is, at its essence, a survival movie a la the Tom Hanks’ vehicle, Cast Away, and the fact that Mars is so big in the headlines at the moment only serves to give it added resonance.

Filled with twists and turns as Watney faces numerous challenges and setbacks in his efforts to survive (and beware there is some strong language and very brief nudity), The Martian is a fine addition to Damon’s acting credits and the latest in a string of films – Elysium and Interstellar being two others – which have given him a solid rep in the sci-fi genre.

Chiwetel Ejiofor does a good job as NASA Mars missions head Vincent Kapoor, Jeff Daniels, in his full-of-gravitas Newsroom persona, plays NASA director Teddy Sanders, Sean Bean plays conflicted NASA flight director Mitch Henderson, and Kristen Wiig plays NASA’s head of media relations Annie Montrose. Among the returning crew Chastain is the stand-out but Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Askel Hennie all admirably fulfil the roles set for them.

And there's some great effects with sweeping vistas across Mars beautifully constructed to give a sense of this harsh, alien world.

It’s a return to form for director Ridley Scott – whose more recent films (think of Exodus: Gods and Kings) - haven’t quite hit the mark. The Martian certainly does that. And while, at times, it can veer a little into being a NASA recruitment film, that doesn’t detract from the overall impact of what’s a quality, thought-provoking production.

The right stuff.