Just last December, Ridley Scott delivered the awfully disappointing biblical epic Exodus: Gods & Kings. However, following in the steps of 2013's Gravity and the fairly recent Interstellar, the director returns to the genre the he does best - sci-fi - with this year's big space opera, The Martian.

There's a line not too far into the film in which Matt Damon's protagonist Mark Watney realises that surviving on Mars might be much tougher than he first imagined so says, "Fuck you, Mars." It's a witty line. It also summarises the film pretty well. This is a film that largely takes place 140 million miles away from Earth, on the desolate Mars. Of course, as tends to be the case with any film of similar calibre, there's science and big, intellectual talk. The Martian certainly is no exception. However, the line also shows the buoyancy of Scott's latest endeavour. This is a film that knows how to have fun and the whimsical approach is a welcomed one, something lacking in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar that merely acted as a dull 3 hour-long science lesson. This keeps the intelligence but adds the quirkiness and the entertainment, something that is carried throughout the whole film.
As far as the plot itself is actually concerned, we're plunged straight into the action with opening shots of the barren yet beautiful Mars landscape. During the Ares 3 mission, a storm hits and forces the crew (led by Jessica Chastain's Commander Lewis) to abandon their work and abort their task and head to safety. However, when Botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is hit by some debris and gets lost in the storm's destruction, the crew presumes that he is dead and abandon him on Mars and depart for Earth. Although, as it turns out, Watney is, in fact, alive but now stranded on a desolate planet. Relying on what resources he can scavenge, he uses his experience as a botanist to plant and grow potatoes and his scientific knowledge to help him survive and get in touch with NASA to get himself rescued. However, as his journey increases, problems keep on continuing to arise not only on Mars, but back on Earth too, as company director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his team (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sean Bean) try to bring him home.

The first thing to note about this film is its stellar cast. Matt Damon leads and is joined by a hugely impressive ensemble, including Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña and so many more and, better yet, every single actor is on their A game and delivers a great performance. I've always thought that Damon is a decent actor but nothing more, nothing less. However, he absolutely knocks it out of the park as Mark in The Martian. The actor brings a lot of charisma and energy to the role and does a terrific job bringing the stranded scientist to life. You root for him to succeed and empathise for his struggle but Damon does more than just play a character, he really embodies the role. He sells the humour well but solidifies the emotion too; it's some of the actor's best work to date. Ejiofor is another standout, as a member of the team at NASA hurrying to save Watney. Each actor anchors this film and anchors Damon's Watney yet they all have their own moments to truly shine and standout too and there is some truly veritable chemistry between this cast and you believe every interaction of theirs.

There is a lot of credit to be given to screenwriter Drew Goddard - the underdog - too because the script for this picture is, largely, the reason everything works so well. Not only is the script vastly intelligent, with all the science elements (which we can presume is sound) but it doesn't bore us with it either and, instead, is informative and intriguing but engaging too. This is, of course, due to the humour Goddard injects into the proceedings. It's genius. Considering the situation Watney is in, there's room for a lot of sombrerity but Goddard sees the fun and humour in this and manages to turn it into something a lot more fun and quirky. The optimism of these characters is so delightful and infectious and adds a nice, atypical warmth to this space opera. That's not to say it's all joy though as there's still plenty of drama and tension to be found and, when it's present, it really hits quite hard too.
Of course, the real sparkling, standout star of the show is director Ridley Scott himself with his meticulous direction and impressive handle and vision of this ambitious project. The scope of The Martian is huge, not only evident in its glamorous ensemble but the big set pieces and the big visuals too. Scott, an aficionado for this genre, always delivers in the visual elements of his films - be it Prometheus or Alien or even the bitter Exodus. And, The Martian is no exception. This film is absolutely gorgeous. From the opening sequence, a panning shot of the vast orange sand of Mars, to the very last frame, this is a film bursting with colour and energy and brimming with beauty. The CG is incredible; the scenes on Mars astounding; the visuals breathtaking; the cinematography glorious - to the extent that it all feels real and you forget that none of the shots in space are actually real. This is a nauseatingly beautiful looking picture and Scott's direction is just as resounding. Whilst the director may have slipped a little with some of his recent projects, The Martian shows just why this is a man hailed as - arguably - one of the greatest directors of our time and, quite certainly, and unarguably, one of the best sci-fi directors working today. He is a true artist and his piece of art is marvellous.

If there's a flaw in this film, it's that it is too long. With a runtime just shy of two and a half hours, it is a long film and, whilst it is entertaining, you do feel pretty exhausted by the end. Some scenes feel as though they could've been cut out to make this film shorter but still just as complete and entertaining - a lot of downtime with Damon mostly. However, that's really the only glaring problem with this film. It's surprisingly funny, beautifully shot, nice to look at and it is immensely fun and entertaining. The 3D effects are wonderous too and it's worth paying the extra admission to see it in the format - and that says something, consdiering I'm not a fan of 3D. Believe me when I say, The Martian is - hands down - one of best experiences of the year.

VERDICT:
Exhilarating and pulse-pounding, The Martian is one of the most fun and entertaining cinema experiences of the year. Ridley Scott returns to form with what is truly a sci-fi epic.
★★★★☆

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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