What’s it like when you look back at Earth from further out than anyone has ever been?
There are a few things that are rare in the movie industry, some of those that you’d expect, such as people pretending that it’s impossible to have a poor Marvel film, or that Force Awakens didn’t have a lot of issues, but one of the ones that people don’t really talk about is that Mark Strong rarely plays a protagonist.
Strong plays antagonists expertly in a variety of different films, and the best part about it is that he roles are often a variety of genres and with very different types of characters. This ranges from Pinbacker, an astronaut who found religion after his spaceship was cast adrift in “Sunshine”, or the ambitious Septimus in “Stardust”, mob-moss Frank in “Kick Ass” or the treacherous Sir Godfrey in “Robin Hood”. His adaptability has made him a very likeable actor.
It will be interesting to see him play a protagonist for a change. I’ve just looked through his filmography and I can’t recall many/any of his roles that I have seen in which he hasn’t been the bad guy.
William Stanaforth (Strong) has successfully managed to invent a process that produces water out of nothing more than dirt, because of this he is authorised to go to Mars and start the first colony. The first few weeks of the mission go without any issues, other than Stanaforth making it clear that he no longer has an interest in talking to anyone other than Skinner (Wilson), his friend and colleague at mission control, and Maddox (Lathan), who is following him three weeks later and will be the second person on Mars.
Stanaforth soon learns that Maddox has drifted off course, but he helps her get back heading towards Mars. However, he soon encounters his own issue as he accidentally short circuits the equipment that transforms dirt into water, and he struggles to get it back working. Any time that he thinks he has fixed it, he makes the situation work. He survives on condensation from the heat from the air con system.
As he approaches Mars, can he give himself and humanity a chance by getting the machine fixed in time?
As good as it should be?
Honestly? No, not really. I had high hopes going into the film after being impressed by the trailer and the mostly one man show from Mark Strong that was promised, but instead I got a film that started off very promisingly, only to then just never get going. The film can really be divided into two halves, but the problem is whereas most films have a much stronger second half than the first, “Approaching the Unknown” has the complete opposite approach.
During the first half of the film I was engaged with what was happening and was excited about it. Early on it has very similar stylings to “Sunshine”, another film set in space that features Mark Strong, but the problem is that the film never seems to move out of second gear, and the second half of the film feels like a car that is rapidly running out of petrol and you’re trying to make it to your destination on fumes. The film never really seems like it’s going to reach a natural conclusion, or at least a conclusion that will leave the audience convinced that they’d just watched a film that they enjoyed.
This is in no fault down to the cast and as expected, Strong delivers a great performance in a film where he is largely on his own. You truly believe in the character and how driven he is to complete his mission one way or another, but later on in the film the character falls into the picture of loneliness and insanity that you predict from watching the trailer and the general storyline.
That is the biggest disappointment for me, there’s nothing truly unique or groundbreaking about the film. I was sat there for it’s 90 minute run time (one of the things that the film did get right) and didn’t see anything that I hadn’t already seen in other films of a similar nature. The best films, in my opinion, are the ones that offer you something that you haven’t seen before during your life, or at least offer enough that’s original enough that you can ignore borrowed parts, but “Approaching the Unknown” doesn’t do that, and other than some decent visuals, it is a largely forgettable film.
In many ways that is the worst type of film that you can have, something that isn’t really worth remembering. Despite enjoying the first half of the film, I couldn’t really tell you that much that happens other than him having a few talks with children and him spewing out a lot of monologues.
I don’t really have that much more to say about “Approaching the Unknown”, I’ve really struggled to get this many words out.
“Approaching the Unknown” starts off promisingly, but it starts getting less and less engaging as it goes on, and by the end of the film I had lost most of my interest in the film.
Mark Strong gives a very decent performance, but he is one of the few positives about a film that is otherwise largely forgettable. I wrote this review two days after watching the film and that’s because I felt very little urge to write the review.
There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes, but there are a many better ways as well.