(Ridley Scott, 2015)
The Martian may be the first time that Matt Damon has truly embraced his movie stardom. The role of Mark Watney, NASA Astronaut mistakenly believed dead and abandoned alone on the surface of Mars, mainly asks that he use his most essential qualities: his likeableness, his charisma, his sense of easy humour. At least half of the movie is Watney alone, engaged in one of the many tasks that will prolong his life (farming potatoes using his own excrement as fertiliser, travelling to pick up an old drone probe, scavenging, counting & rationing supplies, fortifying his habitat) while he talks to the camera or in voiceover. It relies on us liking Damon and wanting him to be ok. He has always had an everyman quality. It is what makes his Bourne a sort of anti-Bond; he fits in, disappears, seems incapable of the devastating violence he unleashes on enemies. And here it lends this survival tale an inbuilt suspense. We need Watney to be alright because we like him so much; he is funny and oh so human.
Ridley Scott directs with relatively anonymous efficiency. Perhaps he has built so many worlds on-screen that he does it now sleekly, without too many ostentatious shots, but this is trim and adept, and seems to trust in an excellent script by Drew Goddard and a classy supporting cast to hold up their end opposite Damon. That cast includes a few vivid cameos from the likes of Donald Glover as a geeky astro-physicist who discovers a quicker way to get Damon home, Michael Pena and Jessica Chastain as the most memorable of his crew-mates, and a potentially great comedy troupe of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kirsten Wiig, Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels as the NASA executives dealing with the fall-out and complications of the whole saga.
To the films credit, the material on earth is just as interesting as the Mars material, and the whole thing stands as a superior, utterly enjoyable piece of Hollywood hokum.