I don’t really like films about space very much. Space, like the sea (a comparison which is also made in this film), is pretty scary. Generally a lot of “space films”, especially recently, like to play up that angle. And, when such a film is rooted in a lot of scientific fact, it makes it all the more chilling. This is how space really is and space is scary. I won’t say that The Martian completely eschews that angle — it doesn’t — but tonally it presents in a unique and somewhat humanist way. Overall, despite being scared of space, I liked the film a lot.
The film is set in the near future of 2035 where a manned mission to Mars needs to be aborted early due to an impending storm. During the escape to the ship Mark Watney is hit by debris and the crew’s captain has to make the decision to leave him for dead or potentially get them all killed. As it happens, Mark doesn’t die. He just ends up stranded on Mars by himself, without nearly enough supplies. The film mainly jumps between Mark on Mars (“Mark on Mars” being a great alternate title) and the crew at NASA that have to deal with the situation from their end. Matt Damon really kills it as Mark, and his sections of the film are just much stronger. There’s a fairly large section, about the third quarter, which mainly focuses on NASA, and while it’s interesting it does feel a bit weaker to move from Mark for such a long time into an ensemble cast of actors. Donald Glover makes an appearance as the typical young and strange maths wiz, showcasing once again that while he might be a funny comedies, he just can’t really nail serious roles.
Speaking of the relationship between comedy and seriousness, it’s The Martian’s balance between this, and it’s unique tone that truly makes the film stand out from the crowd. Based on a book by Andy Weir, also titled The Martian, this is perhaps largely down to him. Drew Goddard has done a good job translating it into a screenplay (for which he won an Academy Award), and Ridley Scott deftly translate into a film that is at times light and breezy, at other tense and harrowing, but never without optimism. Considering Ridley Scott is perhaps best known for directing the quintessential and brilliant space horror Alien, it’s great to see that he can have some fun in space too.
The worst thing you can say about The Martian is that perhaps it’s a little long. At about 2h20m it just feels like it drags a bit in places, perhaps a little in the set-up, and eventually around the mid-point. Perhaps some of the sections on Mars could have been tightened, and some of the NASA sections streamlined. You perhaps get the idea that some of it perhaps already has been, as some of the actors in the NASA section get only a couple of scenes.
But overall The Martian is a great film, which perhaps suffered a little bit from marketing that made it seem more serious than it is — perhaps due to films like Gravity and Interstellar doing very well around the same time. But The Martian is very much its own thing. If you don’t really like scary space stuff then there’s a good chance you will like this, even if you might not expect to.
Also, my housemate came up with a more dope ending to the film:
When he’s about to start teaching, after he asks the class for questions, the shot zooms out really far. Where are they? Mars. Boom.