The Martian is based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir and sees director Ridley Scott return to the science fiction genre that defined him.
Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to make the agonising decision to leave crew member Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind as he is presumed dead after severe storm hits Mars. The film then shifts between Watney’s mission to survive, his former crew members’ (Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie) struggle with guilt and NASA’s (Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover and Kristen Wiig) plan to bring him home.
Having co-written the joyous genre send-up The Cabin in the Woods, it’s a shame the humour within The Martian seems forced, with Watney’s video logs becoming increasingly annoying rather than amusing. The film overall felt surprisingly light-hearted, with a few moments of despair passing quickly, with Watney picking himself back up and dusting himself off swiftly. This works to an extent, with Damon playing a likeable character with ease and his unbreakable spirit urging the audience to root for him.
However, the film lacked themes of isolation, Duncan Jones’ Moon perfectly captures feelings of loneliness and vulnerability, but with some darker moments of comedy. Obviously, Watney’s knowledge as a botanist is incredibly useful, but he makes being stranded on a planet look too easy and the threat of danger always seems too distant.
It goes without saying that The Martian is visually stunning, with even Scott’s Prometheus which divided opinion and Exodus: Gods and Kings which generally received negative reviews, both still praised for impressive visuals and technical achievements. It is apparent that Scott is having fun with the film, contrasting his last efforts which were cited as pretentious and pompous. A wisecracking lead and a soundtrack (courtesy of his commander’s abandoned laptop) that consists of old-school hits (similar to Star-Lord’s mixtape in Guardians of the Galaxy), adds to the film’s jaunty tone.
The Martian boasts a stellar cast and stunning visuals, but its constant light-hearted tone, non-stop quips (this also plagues Marvel’s cinematic universe) and the ease in which Watney overcomes obstacles, prevents a sense of urgency and tension. Watney’s positive attitude and unwavering will to live should always prevail, but those characteristics are highlighted best through both light and dark moments.