I was all too eager to write off director Ridley Scott’s latest blockbuster film The Martian, based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir, as a masculinization of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. I’ll be the first to admit I jumped the gun. The premises of the two films are undeniably similar (intimate struggles for survival in space) but where Gravity is claustrophobic and primal The Martian is vast and calculating.
For me, Scott’s Martian doesn’t manage to dethrone Cuaron’s recent space outing, but that sentiment is sure to be debated as, ironically, The Martian very much feels like the Aliens to Gravity’s Alien (complete with a title card homage to Scott’s 1979 original). The two films foil each other well and are sure to make a solid double feature.
The Martian has rightfully received no shortage of praise for putting forth a narrative that values intelligence over gritty, gun-fu anti-heroism. It’s the pre-Star Wars hard science fiction of yore, where knowledge and heroism are synonymous. Perhaps The Martian’s biggest feat, however, is managing to make a sprawling, exciting blockbuster that hinges on something as intimate and internal as intellectual prowess.
When your protagonist is a billionaire in a jet plane suit armed to the teeth it’s easy to make a big, loud spectacle of a film without seeming disingenuous. The prospect of making the same style of film with a protagonist whose weaponized suit of armor is their intellect is a far more daunting prospect.
The Martian’s greatest achievement is the balance it strikes in delivering a story about the entirely internal heroism of intellect in the package of a massive blockbuster. It boasts the same sprawling, verbose scale and scenery of a Marvel film (though they look decidedly less artificial here) but the superpower at the center of it all is math.
It’s an exciting take on traditional big budget filmmaking. There’s no bad guy. There are no fights. There are no chases. And yet it never ceased to hold my attention and captivate me as only a big, bombastic movie can.
I may prefer Gravity to The Martian, but the former is by no means a rip off of the latter. The Martian is an exciting, interesting film, and one for future blockbusters to emulate.