Review in one sentence: Ridley Scott’s The Martian is really really good, and you should go see it.
The setup is simple: a near-future NASA mission puts humans on Mars for the first time, but a storm forces them to bring a premature end to their expedition and take off. During their rush to escape astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is separated, presumed dead and left behind - but he survives. The film is about him using his wits to survive long enough to be rescued.
It’s a long shot. Fractally the story sets up impossible-seeming challenges, then its characters procedurally beat them. Watching Watney and co. come up with solutions to their problems is like watching Iron Man invent his suit but with actual science.
There’s a lot of humour and warmth in there, too, in a film that could be very cold and remote. Mark Watney’s smug intellect sets him up to be unapproachable, but it’s balanced by the sense of humour he has about the immense gravity of his situation. That kind of describes the film as a whole - all the dense brainy stuff is kept afloat by joke after joke.
There’s a lot of everything in this film, to be honest. It’s got drama which never feels forced or artificial. It’s got detailed yet economical descriptions of how things work. It’s got hundreds of little insights into how different smart people think. It’s got a large and diverse cast in terms of race, gender and age - all talented and all on top form1. And it’s not just about Americans, either, like so many US-aggrandising space films.
Music-wise the original pieces of the soundtrack reminded me a lot of Moon - no bad thing - while the rest is like a rapid current of upbeat retro pop intermittently unleashed with excellent pacing, Guardians of the Galaxy-style. You will bop along to at least one of the songs in this movie. It’s cheesy as hell and the film owns it, acknowledging it with just the right amount of irony.
It has that shot of the NASA control centre right at the moment when it erupts with joy and papers fly into the air for some reason. When was the last time you saw that in a movie?
The Martian is the optimistic, visionary sci-fi movie I think my subconscious has been screaming out for. A near-perfect balance of details and drama. It’s a must-see.