To be quite honest, this film did not catch my attention at all when it was being advertised. The trailers seemed intent on setting it up as a dark, brooding study into the nature of solitude, and I will literally never be interested in that as a concept. It wasn't until I saw some extracts from the book, and later a few short clips from the film itself, that I found out that the film actually has a pretty good sense of humour, which made me interested enough to check it out.
('Check it out' in this instance meaning 'watch all two and a bit hours and then write a review on it', apparently.)
During a manned mission to Mars, a group of astronauts are caught in a storm - and, believing that one of their teammates, botanist Mark Watney, is dead after being hit by debris, they leave, heading back towards Earth. Watney is alive, however, and faced with the possibility of it being four years until anyone arrives to pick him up, sets about working to survive on Mars for that long. Meanwhile, on Earth, the ground control team for the Mars mission realises that Watney survived, and set about trying to get back in contact with him and come up with a plan to rescue him - a plan which might end up endangering the rest of his crew.
|I did really like Donald Glover's brief scenes in this film.|
The film's adapted from Andy Weir's novel of the same name, and my word did Weir put a lot of work into research and having his story be scientifically accurate, and it shows in both the book and the film. There were moments where, even knowing that this was pure fiction (there have never been any manned missions to Mars, after all), I had to remind myself that this wasn't based on true events, and the fidelity to real-world science and real-world space agency operating procedures was a big part of that - and has enough of a strong presence throughout the film that when it does start to dip slightly more into the unbelievable territory towards the last twenty minutes or so, it was fairly easy to just roll with it.
(It helps that while Weir had to do all his research off his own back for the book, for the film he put the filmmakers in touch with NASA, who consulted fairly heavily on the film.)
The characters also feel very real - and a significant amount of the praise for that has to go to Andy Weir again, who has a real talent for writing characters that feel entirely like real people, but it certainly didn't hurt that the film has an impressive cast, all of whom are giving their all. Matt Damon is in the lead role as Mark Watney, played with a wry, deadpan sense of humour; meanwhile, Jessica Chastain plays Melissa Lewis, the Ares III mission commander, in a performance inspired by real-life NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson; Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Vincent Kapoor, the Mars mission director, as determined, sharply intelligent, and a bit of a dork; Sean Bean plays his counterpart, Mitch Henderson, as - to be honest, basically as Sean Bean's standard down-to-earth Northerner - and, actually, if I listed all the cast members I really liked, we would be here all day.
While the film has plenty of ups and downs, with situations often appearing hopeless and with both Watney and NASA having to come up with new plans to compensate for some fairly catastrophic failures, it never feels depressing. Part of that is that there are threads of comedy running throughout, meaning that you're never too far away from a comedic moment (and it's noteworthy that all of the comedy comes from characters saying deliberately funny things, as it generally does in real-life, meaning that the film is funny without ever compromising on realism), and part of that is that it becomes fairly clear early on that they're going to succeed - the relatively hopeful, optimistic tone of the film means that it can't really end any other way.
|"Dad, are you space?" "Yes, son. Now we can be a family."|
While in another film, that might kill the sense of tension a bit, in this film I was more interested to see how they did it than whether they did it, and what kind of lasting effects the whole experience would have on Watney and the rest of the team. The film was certainly never boring, not even for a moment, which is impressive when you consider that it's ninety percent people standing around in rooms talking.
All in all, this was a really fun, well put-together film, and I'm very glad I watched it. I do recommend it to anybody who's interested, if you have two and a bit hours spare and feel like a fun film about people getting trapped in space.