Stranded in Paradise: Why the Martian Was the Perfect Blockbuster

 Featured image courtesy of Fox Movies

Last Wednesday I saw The Martian, a new sci-fi epic starring Matt Damon, at the cinema and was left buzzing. Since then I have come to conclusion that The Martian is the perfect blockbuster.

The Ridley Scott-directed feature tells the story of Mark Watney (Damon), an Astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars. He finds several ways of survival, but if he is to be rescued, he must wait for a minimum of 4 years. With no way of contacting Earth and no company, things look dour. However despite what could be a very moody film, it’s light-hearted and a thrilling watch.  Moreover calling a film the perfect blockbuster is quite a claim, so please let me convince you.

As of late, cinema-goers have witnessed several overly serious and gritty films, a trend notably started by Christopher Nolan’s ultra-realistic Dark Knight Trilogy. Whilst these films presented a fresh take on Batman, several people have used this style as an inspiration for their films with mixed results. For example it complemented Daniel Craig’s outings as Bond, and the latest Star Trek installments very well. On the flip side, we have Gozilla, Clash of the Titans, the recent Terminator sequels and G.I. Joe as well as countless others, all of which were undeniable snooze-fests. This is largely due to their draining somber styles.

Yet the movie industry has caught wind that audiences may not fully appreciate these kind of affairs and have instead opted to produce ‘intensely light hearted, gag-a-minute’ movies. It’s a formula which consists of a group of relatable, down-to-earth, funny central characters working their way to save the world, smashing their way from set piece to set piece, whilst a man and woman try to develop an impossible romance. All while trying to maintain their sense of humor. Marvel Studios we’re looking at you.

Let me explain. Iron Man is a walking quip-dispenser, the Thor films display clueless Earthlings to highlight the ridiculous plot, whilst the bantering between the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers, slide into every minute of dialogue. There’s so much emphasis on how normal, awkward and funny they are, that it becomes jarring. Marvel’s characteristic lightness is appreciated, but it often tries too hard to be funny.

This sometimes masks the forgettable nature of the plot, and a theme I find common throughout many blockbusters: The scale. In oh so many films the whole country, planet or galaxy is going to be destroyed, and with greater stakes come more overwrought tension. It’s far less common to see a film focusing on individuals and personal stakes. For comparison, aren’t the tones of Mad Max and Ant Man far more engaging than the mammoth threat of Avengers: Age of Ultron?

However I am pleased to report none of these problems can be attributed to The Martian. The film is funny, but it isn’t the main focus of the film or fake. There is seriousness but it doesn’t bore. The tension is palpable, but it doesn’t topple perhaps the greatest quality of the film. Its hope. Hope unites all human beings and the theme of hope is knitted into the film brilliantly. This helps create a refreshing tone and it’s all largely owed to the strength of Matt Damon’s performance, and the strong writing of the characters. These elements feels subtle and never feel forced.

To anyone thinking about going to the movies soon, I would strongly recommend seeing The Martian. You’d never think being stranded on a planet could be so entertaining.

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