Film Review: The Martian

I have an interesting relationship with Ridley Scott. I cite Gladiator as one of my few “turn to” movies, those films you can just watch over and over without losing any impact. He directed Blade Runner and Alien, Hannibal and Black Hawk Down. I like his films, and yet recently he’s lost his way. Prometheus teased as a modern spin to his Alien franchise but simply crushed my expectations leaving me bored, confused and feeling completely flat; whilst Exodus: Gods and Kings arrived with a trailer promising an epic scale and spectacle that not only failed to appear, was so monotonously dull I actually fell asleep!

Then we have Matt Damon. The man who very nearly destroyed James Bond through his character Jason Bourne. I have always been a fan ever since he stole the show from underneath Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and even though he often has a smugness to him that oozes a arrogant knowledge of just how good he is I somehow still forgive him all his ills. So when I heard he’d teamed up with Ridley Scott to make a science fiction story called The Martian, it’s fair to say I was expecting something with a bit more of a serious edge.

Matt Damon & Ridley Scott - The Martian

I need to point out right now that I haven’t read the book. In fact, for quite a while I didn’t even realise the film was based on a book. I, therefore, can’t compare how close or accurate Scott’s interpretation or Damon’s portrayal to the source material are. All I know that is screen writer Drew Goddard has created a script and a story that is wonderfully fun, light hearted and engrossing. The film really does use the quality of it’s writing as a foundation and you can see that the strength it provides has taken the pressure off Damon and Scott to hold everything together. So much so, that they can both simply focus of their respective performances, the end result being a film that had me laughing, thinking and dreaming in equal enjoyment, as much, if not more, than anything else this year.

The science in places is completely impossible in places but honestly it doesn’t matter as it fits with the tone of the movie. It’s comedic more than it’s serious. At it’s heart is a story and not a textbook. Damon handles that comedic requirement brilliantly and is really is the perfect casting. Even though he isn’t renowned as a comic actor, he creates the perfect laid back, happy-go-lucky sense of humour, that forces you to constantly see the character rather than the actor. He is so impressive that even though he is facing constantly increasing peril, the fact he’s smiling, joking, swearing, and yet never giving up, keeps you laughing and smiling and wanting to his friend the entire time.

Matt Damon (Joking With The Cast) - The Martian

This reliance on Damon to bring you into the film, hold you there and then keep you laughing and interested is also the films biggest problem. The story around him quickly loses depth and really does struggle to support a lengthy running time. The attempt to get around this is to shift the focus away from Damon, to pad the story out with other characters and other places but they never come close to feeling as inviting, or as in keeping, as when it’s just Damon alone and isolated. In this case, less really is more.

Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Chiwetel Ejiofor all feel as though they are in a different, and far more serious, film. They do help drive the story forward and I will admit they never bored me but I didn’t want to spend much time with them. Sean Bean is the worse though. He truly feels like he’s in the middle of a practical joke. That he’s been told this is a “true life story” and is playing it so straight faced you can almost feel the effort he is imparting to stay in character. Donald Glover is the only member of the supporting cast you cannot criticise though. He is the only piece of comic lightness left at times and does an amicable job of tearing though the seriousness which engulfs large portions of the film, but he also serves to highlight just how much the film suffers and tonally falls apart when Damon is not present.

Gravity (Film) - The Martian

Even worse than the seriousness of the supporting cast and story is how badly The Martian implodes when it reaches the final third. The story shifts it focus from Damon’s plight and onto his future. This changes the film plot to become very linear and very predictable. It’s  becomes very obvious what is going to happen, to such an extent you arrive a long, long way ahead of the story, and the pace is annihilated as a result. It reaches a point where you’d just wish they’d get on with it because you truly are starting to get bored. To make matters worse, when that moment does finally arrive, they take it and go mad, pushing the idea of  implausible stupidity to a level above anything even Gravity attempted. The best I can explain how awkwardly unneeded this shift is, is to say it’s was like having a nice conversation with somebody, making jokes and laughing, and then they lower the tone by telling you a rude joke about their bum!

Thankfully, what goes before is enough to overpower what comes to end and The Martian survived purely by leaving me remembering the good points more than the bad. The scriptural highs of Matt Damon in isolation are thoroughly entertaining but when it widens the arc and tries to become a rounded story with a beginning, middle and end, it falls apart and loses it way. It’s worth watching, but, honestly, you can do the washing up after 100-minutes and be safe that you’ve got everything out of it, it has to offer. And I wont even mention Damon’s spacesuit making him look like BB-8!

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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