The Martian
dir Ridley Scott
scr Drew Goddard
prd Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood
with Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis
release UK 30.Sep.15
15/UK Fox 2h21
The Martian
I'm still here: Damon

chastain pena daniels
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Martian Even though this sci-fi epic has a stranded-astronaut premise like Gravity and lots of Interstellar-style science, this is actually a lively space adventure. It finds some emotional depth within the characters, but never tries to say too much about the bigger picture, simply because where it's going is never in doubt. Essentially it's a celebration of human compassion and brainy ingenuity.

After a storm hits their Mars mission and apparently kills team botanist Watney (Damon), Commander Lewis (Chastain) reluctantly gives the order for her crew (Pena, Mara, Stan and Hennie) to evacuate the planet. But Watney survived his injuries, knowing that the earliest he can be rescued is in four years. So he has to make his habitat and rations last a lot longer than the planned 31 days, and sets about finding a sustainable solution. Meanwhile, the world mourns his death. Until he figures out a way to get a message back to Nasa.

So the plot's urgent question is how to rescue him. Goddard's script cleverly stirs in sharp, sardonic wit as the story progresses on three fronts: with Watney on Mars, Nasa on Earth and the crew travelling through the space in between. The generous, off-handed humour not only makes the characters more engaging, but it adds some edge to the emotions as well. Damon and Chastain have the most complex characters, dealing with personal demons and overwhelming challenges with tenacity, using flippant one-liners to break the tension.

The rest of the seriously adept cast manages to inject plenty of personality into their roles as well, even if they remain more overtly focussed on the task at hand. For example, Daniels, Ejiofor, Bean and Wiig make a terrific team at Nasa, livening up what would otherwise be a lot of bureaucratic deal-making. And unlike Gravity, the scientific aspects of the script feel remarkably believable, down to some simple but clever details.

Scott manages this story beautifully, finding both the visual spectacle and the personal drama in every sequence. Some of the action beats are genuinely thrilling, from sudden set-backs to desperate triumphs. Yes, the film is designed to milk every drop of tension from a story that isn't actually that suspenseful. But the actors are all so engaging that it holds the interest even in its quieter, expository scenes. And it might even make you want to visit Mars.

cert 12 themes, language, grisliness 22.Sep.15

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