Film Review: The Martian (20th Century Fox; 2015)

Matt Damon in The Martian. Photo: 20th Century Fox
Matt Damon in The Martian. Photo: 20th Century Fox

Aishleigh McFeeters, Contributor

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is an adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same name. The science-fiction film is a refreshingly lighter take on the ‘lost in space’ genre with Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut and botanist who is left behind on Mars after his fellow crewmates and he are caught in a fierce sandstorm. After being struck by a satellite antenna, Watney is presumed dead and the rest of the crew head back to Earth. Unbeknownst to NASA and his crew, Watney has survived the tempest and must ‘science the shit’ out of his surroundings if he is survive the next three years on Mars before the next mission arrives. What follows are Watney’s ingenious and resourceful endeavours to survive on the red planet, including but not limited to making fertiliser out of human waste and destroying a crucifix to generate water.

The film switches between NASA headquarters on Earth, the crew on their journey home and Watney’s cheery monologues. It does not have the gravitas or suspense of Interstellar, Gravity or the Alien franchise, but it’s not trying to. The Martian is not a psychological exploration of the despondency of the human mind facing harsh solitude in uncharted territory, rather it balances Damon’s affable magnetism with the science of space travel and its accompanying deployments.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Damon’s Watney is a likeable and humorous character, with knowing quips and subtle showmanship captured brilliantly through the video diaries. However, the character’s lack of despair and near constant upbeat buoyancy do not ring true in the face of three years of gruelling isolation on the unforgiveable planet. This precludes the viewer from investing in the protagonist’s plight, and the the flatness of the accompanying cast results in forgettable performances. The one-dimensional nature of the characters is palpable in Donald Glover’s portrayal of the enigmatic Rich Purnell who captures the threadbare trope of an eccentric genius lacking social skills. The finale is rather disappointing as the tolkienesque China National Space Administration (CNSA) acts as the deus ex machina to save the day when all else has failed.

Despite this, The Martian is an extremely enjoyable film and is well worth watching. It champions the survival and the creative ingenuity of humans encountering almost certain defeat and overcoming it through the use of science rather than saccharine self-belief or patriotism.

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