Tackling daunting challenges with nerdy ingenuity and can-do zeal, Matt Damon’s desperately imperilled astronaut is a space-age Robinson Crusoe stranded on Mars in Ridley Scott’s gripping sci-fi epic. An action movie that, for a change, celebrates brain over brawn, geeky savvy over gung-ho derring-do.
It’s terrifically enthralling watching Damon’s NASA botanist, left behind by his crewmates following a rogue sandstorm, take apart and solve a series of knotty science problems as he strives to survive on the red planet.
And the various dilemmas faced by his former astronaut colleagues (led by Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña) and by the NASA brainboxes back on Earth (including characters played by Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Benedict Wong) add to the tension.
Scott orchestrates all this with deft assurance, skilfully balancing awesome spectacle with intimate human drama, and if he doesn’t probe very deeply into the psychological aspects of its hero’s plight, then Damon’s charisma and self-deprecating humour ensures we keep rooting for him to the end.