With the solidly entertaining The Martian, Ridley Scott has made a two and a half hour movie about science, and for that, he should be commended; he’s going to get some kiddies in love with NASA and the space program. I love the fact that three years in a row we’ve gotten a big-budget, original idea space epic from three master filmmakers, all made without the notion to sell toys or become franchises. The fact that Scott’s entry into the outer-space sweepstakes is my least favorite out of the bunch (Interstellar and Gravity being the other two) takes nothing away from how enjoyable a piece of entertainment it is; Scott has found that rare sweet spot between art and commerce with this exquisitely designed trip to the Red Planet. The film is going to be a MASSIVE worldwide hit, which Scott could use at this point. Dariusz Wolski’s stunning cinematography and Janty Yates’ stylish space-suit costumes were some of my favorite aspects to the film. It’s also surprisingly funny – maybe too light considering the life or death stakes presented by the narrative – and that was the one big surprise about the entire thing. Scott is typically a serious with a capital S filmmaker, with only rare ventures into outright comedy (A Good Year) and a stab at black, gallows humor (Hannibal). Matchstick Men has its comedic moments, but that’s a drama first and foremost.
And while The Martian certainly has the requisite action and special effects and big-time money-shots that you’d expect from a lavishly appointed Scott picture, the film seems to be more happy at home in the smaller, more character based moments, and sort of obsessed with subverting the potential heaviness of a story that could have been made in a variety of ways. Matt Damon is never less than excellent in this film, displaying a warmth and humanity that was relatable to observe, with a star-studded supporting cast doing colorful background work both up in space and on the ground. But other than the humor, there was nothing surprising about The Martian, with all of it playing out exactly as I predicted, and while I can’t find too much to be displeased with, I wasn’t sent out of the theater soaring in the same way that I did with Interstellar and Gravity, which The Martian sort of feels like a curious hybrid of. And also, this thing where people are saying: “Ridley Scott is back” and “Wow, what a comeback!” – that’s pure horse-shit. Other than the turgid and wholly unnecessary Exodus, he hasn’t gone anywhere; he’s been here for years making one great movie after another. The Counselor came out two years ago and the film is a diamond-cut masterpiece. But back to The Martian – it’s Ridley Scott doing a four-quadrant family movie with just enough edge to still feel Sir Ridley-ish, and I’m glad it’ll make a ton of money so that maybe he can get another film like The Counselor made.