After films like Interstellar, Ex-Machina and Lucy in the last year or so, it’s hard to remember a time when a Sci-Fi epic actually had a few laughs along the way, sure those films were pretty entertaining and the odd one had a throw away funny line, but the general gist was a relentless trudge through a pretty depressing future. Hell, Edge of Tomorrow had Tom Cruise dying over and over again in a dystopian future (though I suppose some might see that as quite a positive idea…) and it seems that teenagers these days are targeted by nothing but frighteningly downbeat futuristic thrillers (and perhaps the odd drama about someone dying of cancer…).
Enter Matt Damon as Mark Watney, destined to win the world over with his “botany powers” in Ridley Scott’s The Martian. For the first time in what seems like an age, we finally have a sci-fi film which is enjoyable from start to finish. Despite taking in years of an astronaut living alone on the red planet after an accident, the time flies by in a manner very unlike lengthy Sci-Fi films. Interstellar was fantastic, but it was a hard slog, Prometheus was even more draining (and I – unlike many – really like that film) The Martian though, is a breath of fresh air.
Matt Damon – who is rarely bad anyway – delivers a perfectly pitched performance here; he balances comedy, strained-frustration and cool determination to make Mark Watney one of the most likeable leads in this genre for a long time. We’re really more in the territory of Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man in terms of tone and, considering the epic scope, surprisingly it works. As much as McConaughey’s drawling pine for his children and Hathaway’s steely nerves work so well in Interstellar here all the characters are likeable and cheerful. It’s such a pleasure to have a film which is finally optimistic about something.
In some respects the drama of the story suffers slightly at the hands of this light hearted, comedy filled optimism though. Simply because you never really believe Watney is going to die. A combination of the positive attitude of all the actors (a very able group including Jeff Daniels as the Head of Nasa, Jessica Chastain as the commander of Damon’s colleagues and Chiwetel Ejiofor), the jokes and a 70s disco soundtrack (the only music Watney is left by one of his colleagues…) does encourage you to take as a-given that our hero will survive. All these things could be grating, or out of place, but somehow it works. Because, despite the general tone being lighthearted, The Martian is full of some extraordinary action sequences. There are no flashy spaceships falling from the sky moments – as in Ridley Scott’s last sci-fi effort – but there are some real nail-biters, particularly in the final riproaring sequence.
There just isn’t ever a dull moment to leave you thinking about the tone, the writing is so sharp and well paced that you simply enjoy the ride. Drew Goddard (The Cabin In the Woods) cleverly adapts the Andy Weir novel to include science but never delve too deep or spend too much time on explanations. He simply lets you piece what you need to know together and the rest is there to engage you with that science in a visceral action packed way. And though Ridley Scott has his detractors, he is rarely a dull filmmaker, he just knows how to shoot an action sequence, and appears to have an intrinsic knowledge of what works in sci-fi. It all slots together perfectly, and if I could, I would happily have watched it again as soon as it was finished, The Martian is brilliant.
The funniest sci-fi in a very long time but also one with real heart, intelligence and impeccable pacing. It’s a perfect storm of a great script matched with one of the best visual directors and a cast to die for. In short, The Martian is out of this world.
The Martian is out now in wide release everywhere. Cover Photo rights; 20th Century Fox