Review: The Martian (2015)

The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott, 2015) – Alone on Mars and presumed dead, Mark Watney must find a way to signal to Earth that he is still alive.

Verdict

Is Matt Damon worth saving again? Ridley Scott’s Saving Private Ryan in space makes the answer a resounding positive.

4/5

Review

There’s a spaceman, waiting in the sky. Stranded on Mars and presumed dead by his crew, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) draws upon both wit and strength in human spirit to survive the punishing wait for rescue.

While science fiction frequents dystopias and themes of despair, The Martian chooses a different route and births hope where all is forlorn. Emphasis on shards of hope amidst debris of disaster makes a strong case for NASA’s quest for interstellar travel, one often maligned by cynical corporations.

Thrills are never absent, even with a resourceful main protagonist. The lone Martian’s arduous journey remains a formidable challenge. In one striking moment, Watney distracts himself from a nearing storm by taking inventory of his rations, whilst battling fresh memories of a recent accident. While desperation lingers near, his persevering grit presents refreshing optimism.

The Martian
Still the greatest botanist on the planet.

In favour of developing its leading astronaut, the survival story unfortunately neglects most of his Ares III crew aboard the Hermes craft. Going beyond the big screen and onto the small, extended online scenes from the Ares Archives prologue largely make up for the lack of characterisation.

Sans the clips, Jessica Chastain still shines in her headstrong commander Murph Mel Lewis. Alien director Ridley Scott presents yet another strong heroine, who inspires with her level-headed leadership and enduring objectivity in face of odds. Placing their own lives on the line for the friend they left behind, her team of few words is equally supported by strong albeit underused casting.

The Martian
Google Earth. Always taking pics.

Together, they face intangible antagonists – forces of nature that intimidate in their unpredictability. Rarely the case for a genre that features humanoid aliens and evil conglomerates, the script leans towards the first half of science fiction. It works. The result is grounded in absolutely compelling scientific advances.

It is a long wait for life back on Earth, and Watney does everything he can to stay alive. What he can do, is an impressive lot. He plays surgeon, botanist, chemist and engineer in fascinating acts of ingenuity on the desolate planet.

The Martian
“Did we send Macgyver to space?”

Throughout little victories and disheartening incidents, he remains spirited. His brilliant charm comes across in endless humour that makes it all too easy to root for the castaway.

And so his crew, space agencies and scientists work tirelessly in joint rescue efforts, diverse minds striving towards the same goal. With tremendous pressure under watchful eyes of the world, the fictional universe is not the only one cheering for Watney’s uplifting triumph – we certainly are, too.

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