Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Review: The Martian

Year: 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Synopsis is here:

There is a solid argument which considers that The Martian is a safe film. A film that answers that leaves no frayed ends. Any questions asked, are quickly answered. It’s a film with no typical conflict. Yet when Ridley Scott leaves things open ended (Prometheus) or delivers a dangerous, uncompromising feature (The Counsellor) the filmmaker is quickly disregarded. The Martian almost plays out less like a resigned “I give up” and more like a brash “fuck you” to naysayers. If it’s a safe movie you want (and the expansion of all franchises ever claim you do), then Mr Scott is going to provide the most polished “safe” movie he can provide.

For a film which holds a running time that’s safely over two hours, Scott’s ode to progressive humanity briskly moves with an unexpected swiftness. Quickly landing us within the films predicament, The Martian shows what an entertaining craftsman Scott can be. The Martian finds itself in similar territory to Unstoppable (2010), directed by Ridley’s late brother Tony. The world and set up are quickly established so the film can get on to what it really wants to talk about: Human co-operation.

Much like Unstoppable, The Martian doesn’t really have much in the way of conflict. Unlike Alien (1979), this isn’t about petty hostility paving the way for larger animosity. The Martian actually invests its time in showing human capabilities. It mines enjoyment from intelligent people doing smart and considered things.Matt Damon’s everyman likability help provide a solid foundation to the proceedings. Damon’s Mark Watney, the unfortunate interplanetary castaway, never feels like an empty audience vessel, nor does his ability to his way through particular circumstances feel like a cheat. Much of this is down to Drew Goodard spry script, along with Ridley’s direction. The heavier moments (budget talk, the science, and the media circus) never feel heavy. The film plays with the right sense of broadness in mind.

As The Martian expands, so too does the involvement of the film’s ample cast. Scott, who went under fire for his casting choices and comments on Exodus: Gods and Kings, now delivers a diverse and multi-cultural cast which spans from America through to China. Of course, there’s still complaints of the film whitewashing certain characters based on assumptions. This is also in spite of the author not being explicit with the character representation. Due to the film doing much to invest in a diverse cast, such criticisms should really fall to the wayside. It should be said, however, that a few of the films female characters seem to lack a sense of agency and felt more like a collection of reaction shots than fully fleshed out characters. Yet it’s still important to see everyone with a particular role to play, and The Martian endeavours to highlight this in the film's politics.

Such an argument is clearly observed with the role of Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. One can debate that Glover’s role is small and collection of clichés. But we must also contend with the fact that Purnell’s role within the plot is not only pivotal but could possibly hold one of the most inspirational representation of Afro-Americans in 2015. The role of Purnell is a microcosm of the Watney’s situation as well as the film’s theme: No matter how small, you hold an importance. We hold an importance.

The Martian seems influenced from not only lesser known sci-fi such as Silent Running (1972) and Moon (2009) but also more populist features such as Interstellar (2014) as well as Scott’s own Alien (1979) and Prometheus (2013). Damon has also mentioned that the likes of Touching the Void (2003) is an inspiration.  It’s a testament to Scott’s craft on just how well he melds these elements into such a crowd pleasing compound. The Martian’s ability to make its humour, science and stakes so palatable and balanced is amongst its best features. But add to that the film’s gorgeous visuals, dynamic set pieces and dependable performances and the result is one of the most enjoyable mainstream productions of the year. Safe? Perhaps, but The Martian is a blockbuster that is willing to highlight bravery and smarts over superpowers and preordained destiny as heroic. In the current environment, it actually feels quite daring.