The premise of this film is simple; Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars so NASA have to try and save his life before he wastes away on a barren planet. Despite this Ridley Scott has managed to make a visceral, spectacular film out of it.
As many have pointed out before me, The Martian does bare several resemblances with Saving Private Ryan. Not only is it about a team trying to rescue Matt Damon but it is also incredibly emotional, with the simplest plot devices leaving the audience at the edge of their seats.
This is because it is so easy to become emotionally invested in these characters compared to those in other space epics like Interstellar. None of the characters are cardboard cut-outs, they all have important roles to play and all seem genuinely human without resorting to cringe-worthy subplots involving love interests or such like. Credit should go to Drew Goddard (who has previously written World War Z and The Cabin in the Woods) here for such a masterful adaptation of the novel.
The soundtrack plays a big part in the laughs in this surprisingly hilarious film (there were probably more laughs in The Martian than some “comedies” released this year). Throughout the film the likes of Abba and Gloria Gaynor featured and, I’m not going to lie, there was a bit of chair dancing going on in the cinema!
However this music wasn’t just important for laughs, it was important on an emotional level for Mark Watney’s sanity to a certain extent as well due to the fact that it was a connection of sorts to his team. It’s subtle things like this that show how many layers there are to the script as it is as much about Watney’s psychology as he tries to survive as it is about astronomical science.
It also helps that Matt Damon puts in one of the best performances of his career. For most of his time on screen he is completely isolated, his only communication being via written messages, but he is so captivating throughout. This makes it even more emotionally wrought – some moments were laugh-out-loud funny, others were intensely upsetting – without needing to use flashbacks that the likes of 127 Hours did.
The visuals are also spectacular. It is hard to believe that the majority of it was filmed on sets using practical effects. The shots in outer space were mesmerising and on a level with Gravity and Interstellar. Whilst I didn’t see it in 3D, it is easy to imagine that this would be one of the few films that uses the format effectively.
Without spoiling anything for anyone, the finale is one of the tensest pieces of cinema in recent years. Not only is this because the story takes some major twists throughout that it is difficult to predict what will happen, but also because you get swept away in the gung-ho mentality of people trying to save one of their own. Whilst at times this rubbed off as being a clichéd Americanism, it’s one of the few films where it didn’t bother me because after more than two hours I was very emotionally invested and wanted them to succeed.
The Martian is definitely a major return to form for Ridley Scott, with this very possibly being his best film since Gladiator. It perfectly balances the human drama and the thrillingly epic Space aspects, even more so than Gravity and Interstellar, making it a must-see on a big screen.