Friday, January 22, 2016

The Martian

(Ridley Scott, USA, 2015)

Surprisingly enjoyable.  Too long to be called a romp, it is nevertheless a likable, if odd, bird: a work of peppy optimism that celebrates human ingenuity without getting too swoony about it.  Rather than a bland paean to the power of technology, it is refreshingly human-centered, and amounts to a nearly utopian political vision that is cannily couched in a near-contemporary setting.  There is something weirdly refreshing about the matter-of-factness of the plot, which contains no major reveals or surprises, but instead concerns itself with all kinds of practical challenges.  We know that they will eventually bring Matt Damon home, but we still invest ourselves in the working through of a series of obstacles that make his assured return technically doubtful.  This is all orchestrated by Ridley Scott's best direction in years, perhaps in decades; the visual style is realistic but still expressive, precise without being fussy.  It feels less like an advertisement for NASA than for science in general, and the cross-cultural plot points (the Chinese have a hand in saving the day), which almost certainly reflected marketing and box-office imperatives, feel strikingly hopeful, even more so considering the current state of world affairs.  Damon's performance is pleasantly corny; like everyone else in the movie, he's having a good time, even when his character isn't.  The corniness doesn't overwhelm, though, and the vision of a world that is curious, peaceful, and mostly united, casts a strange, soothing spell. 

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