Ridley Scott’s films are not known for their kindness, as demonstrated in a rush of recent objectionable blockbusters as he pushes 80 (Prometheus, The Counselor, Exodus: Gods And Kings), and yet this filming of Andy Weir’s novel is his most human in many a moon.
The plot is well known: in a near future we meet the crew of a mission to Mars (actually an FXed Jordan), and they include Mark Watney (Matt Damon), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Rick Martinez (Michael Peña) and Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, star of last year’s far different Interstellar). A storm hits, Mark is presumed dead and the crew evacuate the red planet, and yet Mark is very much alive, and he awakens to find himself alone and in dire need of using left-behind tools and technologies to survive. As he famously states, he’ll have to “science the shit” out of it all if he wants to live until such a time as NASA can send another craft to pick him up – and that might take four years. We then cut back and forth between Watney’s predicament and what’s going on back on Earth, where NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels, pleasingly Newsroom–like), media relations sort Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig in a fine non–comic performance), Mars mission main–man Venkat Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and more become aware of Mark’s plight and debate how to save him, as the world watches. While the Earth–set sequences here are terrific and the players all shine (with Sean Bean, Donald Glover and others in smaller roles), this is nevertheless mostly about Mark as he confronts his situation on that harsh planet so many millions of miles away with inspired (if icky) botanical ideas, good humour and a few disco tunes. Is it Damon’s best performance? Just about, and Scott’s film needed a star of that magnitude to play Mark, so you’ll be glad that it’s Matt’s face on Mars. Rated M. The Martian is in cinemas now