Ridley Scott catches (undeservedly) a ton of flack for his theatrical misfires, whether it be the polarizing 'Prometheus,' his Biblical epic 'Exodus: Gods and Kings,' or the horrifically underrated and misunderstood 'The Counselor.' To be fair, the only reason for this social backlash is due to the fact that we expect greatness every time a new piece of work from Ridley Scott graces the big screen. That said, I can assure you that despite Watney and the crew of the ARES III's numerous misfires, Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' is anything but.
'The Martian' is a much-welcomed return to legendary sci-fi status for Sir Ridley and propels Matt Damon back atop amidst the action-hero greats. With Drew Goddard's witty, grounded, surprisingly hilarious screenplay providing the necessary fuel to lift 'The Martian' into suborbital space. Scott's sure-handed direction and incomparable vision in addition to the ensemble's overwhelming talent and undeniable capabilities quite handily launch 'The Martian' into the space-spectacle elite.
Deviating from fact and authenticity is seemingly out of the question for the filmmakers that choose to traverse the swirling, infinitely-intricate cosmos, and Scott isn’t about to stray. Unfortunately, when bound by science, there’s only so much room allowed for divergence. As a direct result, it quickly becomes apparent that 'The Martian's' ARES III is superficially similar in comparison to 'Interstellar's' Endurance and '2001: A Space Odyssey's' Space Station V. Introduced by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and explored further by Wernher Von Braun in the 1950s, the rotating space station doesn’t appear to be leaving us anytime soon. Thankfully however, this is where the similarities between Scott’s latest space epic and science-fiction’s heavy-hitters end.
The latest addition into what is rapidly becoming one of the premiere sub-genre's in cinema as of late, with notable entries such as Alfonso Cuaron's 'Gravity' and Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar.' 'The Martian' fits impeccably into the growing niche, yet exudes enough originality and heart to separate itself from the obvious common threads that space exploration films share.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about ‘The Martian’ is Scott’s ability to travel between Mars, ARES III, and Earth effortlessly, without losing focus or emotional stability. As we journey roughly 140 million miles to Earth, it’s remarkable to find that one can’t shake the feeling that, although we are only temporarily parting ways with Watney, we’ve abandoned him as well, if only to obtain intel regarding his rescue. No matter how far we voyage from the red planet, we never really leave Watney.
Scientifically, Scott’s 'The Martian’ doesn’t exactly chart any new ground. And with Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ still running amuck on countless viewers psyches, it might be best for some to temper their expectations, cosmologically speaking. While it may seem to the casual filmgoer that ‘The Martian’ and ‘Interstellar’ are significantly indistinguishable, especially when considering that Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain star in both, I assure you the two films couldn’t be more different.
Rounding out an impressive ensemble, in addition to Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, are Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Michael Peña inhabiting the ARES III and Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover back on Earth. Now, if you’re thinking that each of the aforementioned couldn’t possible have enough screen-time, you’d be right. To be honest, other than Damon and the few aboard the ARES III, the supporting cast are stuck with emotionally stagnate, one-dimensional characters. Having said that, the lot do a marvellous job feigning worry and intrigue, in addition to pulling off their spotty one-liners.
As you experience 'The Martian,' this overwhelming thought that the film was the oblivious recipient of good fortune, blind luck, and situational circumstance will slowly, but inevitably engulf your judgement. I mean, Matt Damon carries a hefty amount of the film's screen-time, which is stretched thin as is to accommodate such a vast, high-profile ensemble, but I digress. As I was implying, to let a film of this magnitude rest solely on the shoulders of Damon's comedic timing, response to 70s disco music, and enactment of tedious (although crucial) tasks seems almost irresponsible.
That said, I assume it's far more likely that Scott, Damon, and crew just did that damn well of a job in pre-production and it all ideally came together. You need to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky, right? By no means am I discrediting the performances of Damon's supporting players, nor am I dismissing Scott's aesthetically-pleasing, emotionally-unrelenting vision. Rather, I'm simply stating that without Damon's impeccably-timed, near-flawless performance, 'The Martian' would be truly lost in space.