2 October 2015

The Martian review

I have very mixed feelings about Ridley Scott. Despite directing one of the best science fiction films of all time and one of the best horror films of all time (Alien on both counts) I'd find it hard to disagree with anyone claiming that Ridley Scott's filmography is something of a mixed bag, especially as of late. His last five films have all seen a somewhat muted reaction from critics and audiences alike, and his inability to leave his older films alone (does anyone actually want a sequel to Blade Runner or another prequel to Alien?) has seen some people question whether or not he still 'has it'. It's not an unfair question really - his ratio of good to bad films has been slowly getting worse for nearly a decade.

After seeing The Martian, I can confirm that Ridley Scott still 'has it'.

The Martian follows botanist/astronaut Mark Watney as he attempts to survive being stranded on Mars after a sudden storm separates him from his crew, who are forced to abandon their mission and return to Earth. Presumed dead by both NASA and the crew of the Hermes, Mark must figure out a way to produce food and water on the inhospitable red planet while also attempting to work out a way to make contact with NASA without any of the equipment he needs to do so.

If I could only talk about one thing that I loved about The Martian, I would have to highlight just how much the film believes in mankinds ability to overcome any obstacle that can be thrown at us. Despite the potentially depressing premise, The Martian is not a bleak film - instead it is filled with the kind of unwavering hope and earnest optimism that you don't often see in science fiction anymore, the kind of positivity that can come off as cheesy in the wrong hands but is handled perfectly here. The Martian has such a strong belief in the power of human spirit, such confidence in our unwavering determination to succeed that it is nearly impossible to not get caught up in it all. I've seen films where cynicism is used to mask the fact that the film really has nothing to say, and the fact that The Martian avoids that particular pitfall considering the story it is telling is a breath of fresh air.

Luckily though I'm not limited to talking about just one thing that I loved about The Martian, which is good news when a film is capable of doing this many things right. The way that The Martian balances the story between Mark on Mars, the crew on the Hermes and NASA on Earth is impressive enough, but the fact that each and every single one of the characters you meet in these different locations are made to feel like real people is extraordinary. I had remind myself several time throughout The Martian that I wasn't watching a biopic - I don't think I've ever bought so fully into a film before, been so able to believe that things I am seeing had actually happened.

Matt Damon is great as Mark Watney, managing to convey so much about his character with a very limited amount of dialogue. Like the film itself, Mark is extraordinarily optimistic, his determination to survive and his general positivity leaking out of the screen. Not only that, he's also actually rather funny - much of our insight into his time on Mars is through the video logs he records while isolated, and these are often full of little jokes or witty lines that really help pull the film together. This all ties in with the films refusal to allow itself to become anything other than hopeful - I can only think of one moment in the film where Mark is presented as being anything other than extremely positive about the whole situation, and it's really effective thanks to how genuinely upbeat he has been up until that point.

Also great is every other actor in the entire goddamn film. Some of them might not have a whole lot to do (take Donald Glover, for example, who just has one very important scene) but they still manage to make their time on screen leave a lasting impression. A lot of this is to do with how good Drew Goddard's screenplay is, but that wouldn't mean anything without a seriously talented cast, and The Martian certainly has that. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan and the aforementioned Donald Glover all fill their roles with a real sense of personality and understanding regardless of how much they actually matter to the plot - and they are just the ones I can name off the top of my head. I've already mentioned how much I believed in The Martian earlier on, and I think this supporting cast probably had a lot to do with that - there isn't a single one of them that didn't feel as if they were a real person.

There are lots of other things that make The Martian a simply incredible film (such as how the science is made accessible without dumbing it down, how expertly it balances humour with drama and the downright gorgeous cinematography) but what I think I will remember most about The Martian is just how it made me feel - that despite all the issues that we a species are still trying to deal with, we will one day overcome them and move on the bigger and better things. It's an inspiring, rousing, triumphant movie, a movie that desperately wants you to realise just how much potential the human race has, and how ready we are to continue moving forwards as a species.

The Martian is the kind of movie that reminds you how important a movie can be. You deserve to see it.

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