What is it with Ridley Scott and stomach surgery in space? Alien had the infamous birthing scene, Prometheus had a self-abortion, and it's barely ten minutes into The Martian before Matt Damon's Mark Watney is performing surgery on his stomach.
That's after he's left all alone on Mars when the other members of his expedition crew escape a heavy storm assuming him dead. How will he survive? Provide food for himself? Contact Earth for rescue? In his own words: "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this".
And that's exactly what he does. Whether growing potatoes on a hostile planet, repurposing communications technology, or a seemingly ludicrous escape are scientifically possible will be far beyond the majority of the audience. For the most part, The Martian feels more like an extended advertisement for the remarkable technological advancements and bright minds of NASA than an actual narrative driven film. Most dialogue comes from Watney's video diaries and narrating his own actions, paralleled with those on Earth planning his rescue. There's little tension, a lot of science, and it's a long while before anything goes life-threateningly wrong.
Suspend your disbelief, though, and there's a decent, enjoyable film here. Once the rescue mission is underway there is some gripping action, though with Watney's happy-go-lucky personality there's little doubt he won't make it.
But this is a Ridley Scott film, so there must be more to it, right?
Wrong. This is actually just a simple blockbuster, perhaps in answer to the overly complex and philosophical Prometheus. It's a very enjoyable one for sure, beautifully made with a superb cast of recognisable faces. The cinematography is also stunning, juxtaposing the claustrophobia of living in a space station with awesome vistas of the dusty, desolate Mars. A minimalist score from Harry Gregson-Williams adds to the ambience, whilst diagetic disco music provides comic relief.
Yet this could have been a study in loneliness, but the film never delves into the psychology of a man left to survive on a planet alone. Damon's botanist is seemingly too cheerful, methodical science taking over the human mind. We never glimpse him missing his family, or the experience of his family themselves. And although Damon is a likeable leading man, the script never allows his performance to transcend the film.
The Martian could have explored the inner-turmoil of a Captain dealing with leaving a crew member behind, debating the possibility of mutiny. Instead, Jessica Chastain's Melissa Lewis is sorely underused.
It also could have looked further into the international community joining forces to save a man lost in space, but instead the film shies away from politics.
What we're left with, then, is a film that's not as psychologically interesting as Moon, without the emotional pay-off of Apollo 13, even if its science appears more plausible than Interstellar from which the main players are stolen. Unusually for Scott, The Martian is an interesting, entertaining yet shallow film. For fans, the stomach surgery will have to suffice.
Watch: The Martian is out now.