There are some films that allow secondary elements like visual effects, unlikely locations, and a "science fiction" premise to take centrestage. More often than not these elements become the movie instead of guiding the move, leading to a cluttered and gimmicky narrative. The Martian isn't one of these films. It is an endearing, surprisingly witty, and even poignant sci-fi drama. The film is superb in all aspects, be it direction, acting, script, visual effects, background score or (phenomenal) leading performance.
The Martian has many likeable tropes that enable it to be a blockbuster, but one which has heart. The story of a man stranded on Mars is appealing and is also one that can take many different turns. Luckily for us, the film always takes the correct ones. The script is sharp, highly humorous and yet thrilling and heartfelt. The decision to sprinkle humour throughout the film makes it more approachable but doesn't take away the intensity from the plot. The supporting cast is fantastic. Each character is perfectly cast and has a purpose. The actors are diverse in nature and personality, making it a truly global film without being obvious or pushing it down our throats. The characters are also realistic despite not featuring any inherently likeable or unlikeable personalities.
Jessica Chastain yet again delivers in a sci-fi ensemble (she played a major role in Interstellar), this time as the leader of the space crew. Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan (of Winter Solider fame), Michael Pena and Aksel Hennie act well to complete a sweet, smart and resourceful crew. Other supporting characters like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover and Sean Bean also give important and convincing performances.
Matt Damon, however, is the star, front and centre of this film. He gives an out-of-this-world performance (pun intended). He makes this movie tick and makes it enjoyable for the audience to watch one man talk to himself for the majority of the film. His self-deprecating and self-aware, and his comic timing is superb and highly entertaining. He displays charisma, charm, and deep sentimentality with equal vigor. His acting is perfectly bold and direct when required, but also remarkably subtle when needed.
The science fiction elements portrayed in the film are also enjoyable and not overly confusing or jargon-filled. The technology and knowledge used are realistic – or definitely feel close to realistic. The film is not pretentious, didactic, or unnecessarily ambitious. This enables the story to be relatable and accessible. Ridley Scott's direction of the film is remarkably understated; it guides the film in a gentle and amusing manner. Despite the big overarching plot, some of the best parts of the film are the smart nuances and effortlessly sharp dialogues.
The Martian is a cinematic achievement that deserves to be appreciated for years to come. It's a modern-day but timeless masterpiece. The movie is near perfect and accessible to audiences of all sorts. It's a feel-good and heartwarming film, and it's also a superb character piece. It delivers both as a standalone comedy and as a pronounced sci-fi extravaganza. The acting is magnificent (especially Damon) and the story is tightly woven and striking. The film's biggest win is that it manages to combine sci-fi, comedy, and drama into one coherent and delightful journey.