The Martian (4 stars)

The Martian

TIFF 2015: Spectacular but corny space drama with an engaging Matt Damon

Saving Private Ryan meets Gravity via Robinson Crusoe in The Martian, a bullish adaptation of the Andy Weir page-turner. The latest space mission saga from veteran director Ridley Scott may not be a genre landmark like Alien, but what it lacks in subtlety it certainly makes up for in spectacle and heart-in-the-throat tension.

When a NASA mission to Mars is struck by a fierce storm, team leader Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) decides to abort and head for earth. Fallen colleague Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left for dead. Tears are shed, a monument is built in his name and Watney becomes a sad memory. What they don’t know, and the viewer does, is that Watney is alive and well and stranded on the planet.

The Martian is not a film that wallows in existential angst or introspection. It is a gung-ho celebration of all-American ingenuity and the will to survive. Despair is not a word in botanist Watney’s vocabulary as he transforms his ordeal into an extreme exercise in problem-solving. How can he generate water? How will he grow crops? Can he sustain his wisecracking jocularity and the belief he will be rescued?

Scott accentuates the positive throughout, resulting in a slightly corny and simplistic tale. Lewis has left behind her cherished collection of 1970s music, handily providing the way-too-obvious tracks that underpin Watney’s state of mind, including Bowie’s 'Starman' and Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. Fortunately, Damon is just the actor to carry a film like this. His Boy Scout manner and understated way of treating triumph and disaster with wry humour make for a very engaging central character, while the final half hour pulls out all the stops to create do-or-die drama on a par with Gravity. The Martian is popcorn entertainment but of the highest calibre.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 10 Oct.

The Martian

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 2h 10min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Ridley Scott
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
  • UK release: 30 September 2015

When a NASA Mars mission is struck by a storm and the team decides to abort, fallen colleague Mark Watney (Damon) is believed dead. But he isn't, and he goes about trying to survive until a rescue can happen. Spectacular, tension-filled, top-quality popcorn from Scott, centred on Damon's wryly funny and understated…