The Martian is basically a mixture of Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy (GOTG) with a little bit of Cast Away thrown in. After a mission on Mars goes horribly wrong when a violent sandstorm hits the crew’s site, astronaut Mark Watney is injured, separated from the crew and subsequently left behind after being presumed dead. He then finds a way to communicate with NASA, but must overcome enormous obstacles of how to survive indefinitely on Mars.
Problem solving and scientific discovery are the key ingredients to Mark Watney’s survival, such as growing plants from his own poo, and creating water through the burning of hydrogen. However the constant dumbing down of how Watney actually survives through his endless one-line gaffes of “Fuck you, Mars” and “I’ll need to science the shit out of this” forces the film directly out of the serious camp, and instead tries to mimic the silly, self-deprecating style of GOTG. However, GOTG was absolutely hilarious andand pretty original in how it used the brilliant soundtrack as a serious part of the plot-people fell in love with it as they drifted off into musical nostalgia. Now know that the original book by Andy Weir does has Watney listening to his Commander’s ‘terrible’ disco music as he survives on Mars, buthe screenplay’s unsubtle poaching of GOTG’s retro ‘dorky but cool’ musical style didn’t have that same underdog appeal. There was this constant feel that both Damon and the movie were engaging in some major ego-stroking, which in itself is a turn off. It also meant the movie couldn’t deliver on moments of actual authenticity, where no disco tunes were to be found.
The movie runs out of steam towards the end when some actual authenticity is required for Watney’s rescue, with no disco tunes to be found. The film’s critical moments lack gravitas, and despite obviously still rooting for Watney, because it’s Matt Damon trying to survive on Mars by growing potatoes from his own shit…with Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ blaring in the background… it just seems overall a bit shallow.
The supporting cast often really give films like these an extra boost, and there were ample opportunities to utilise the star-studded ensemble of Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain and even SNL’s brilliant Kristen Wiig, but because the film is all about Watney, the other characters don’t get much breathing space. I’m not sure why Wiig, as NASA’s PR specialist, only had the sole purpose of frowning in concern at the NASA director (Daniels) who seemed more like Mr Nasty saying “It’s a no from me’ as he repeatedly shoots down rescue mission ideas.
Colourless personalities also plague Chastain and Ejiofor’s characters as mission commander and mission director respectively, but not for want of better performances: they just don’t have a lot to do, and with the film relying so heavily on Watney’s bravado to demand laughs as well as sympathy, the lack of wider context makes emotional impact difficult to summon.
3 / 5
Dir: Ridley Scott
Scr: Drew Goddard
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean
Prd: Mark Huffman, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schafer, Ridley Scott, Aditya Sood
DOP: Dariusz Wolski
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Run time: 141 mins
The Martian is in cinemas from 30 September 2015.