The artistic ambition behind "Sunshine" is greater than the finished product's ultimate impact, perhaps because the film appears to be headed to a special place it never finds. Still, if given the option between watching a movie that tries to be too many things at once and watching one that barely is anything at all, the former choice is certainly more appealing. Plausible within the confines of the world director Danny Boyle (2003's "28 Days Later
") has created, "Sunshine" is a thinking-person's science-fiction effort that deals with and sorts out its conflicts without goosing up the subject matter with otherworldly creatures or laser-firing space battles.
The year is 2057. The sun has begun to burn out, leaving the earth a frigid wasteland on the verge of a full-blown apocalypse. Enter the eight crew members of spacecraft Icarus IIamong them, physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy), sensitive pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), hotheaded engineer Mace (Chris Evans), biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), med officer Searle (Cliff Curtis) and Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada)sixteen months into their mission to travel to the sun and jumpstart it with a bomb described as having the mass of Manhattan. When the shuttle is damaged and their air supply subsequently compromised, the crew is faced with almost certain death. Their only hope for survival lies in the discovery of the long-dormant Icarus I, curiously sending out a signal seven years after its maiden voyage to fix the sun ended in failure.
"Sunshine" is an absorbing thriller that tonally recalls 1979's "Alien" and 2002's "Solaris
" remake without quite reaching the same level of success. There are suggestions of allegory within the story, most provocatively the personification of the faltering sun as wrathful God, but this is only summarily touched upon rather than deeply explored. Meanwhile, the characters are two-dimensional at best; without really getting to know them beyond a trait or two each, it is difficult to care when the body count mounts. Some further setup with them at the onset would have been an immeasurable help in understanding who they are, what makes them tick, and what they have left behind back home. By not digging beneath the surface of these things, the film has an ethereal coldness that differentiates itself from the concluding emotional sucker-punch of "Solaris
And yet, "Sunshine" still works. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland have collaborated on what could best be described as a claustrophobic fever dream. Deliciously creepy in its subtly mounting dread, the film's intimate interior setting is all the more effective when used as counterpoint to its massive, infinite exteriorsnot even big enough to be a speck on the universe's blueprint. This makes for some sobering, awe-inspiring sights, and the long, empty corridors and chambers add to the sense of isolation and eventual hopelessness the characters face as they sacrifice their lives for the greater good.
Two-thirds of the way through the expedient 103-minute running time, the plot takes a sharp turn into horror territory. It's inessential to the already-established premisepitting a group of eight astronomers and scientists against the galaxy's biggest star is riveting all by its lonesomeand not taken satisfactory advantage of. The idea behind this surprise is unsettling and clever, but it also smells of Boyle's desperation to create a human villain. Scarier are the eerily quiet sequences aboard Icarus I, not stepped foot into for the better part of a decade. Drenched in darkness and dust and skeletal remains, the mere possibility that someone or something might be alive and lurking about is enough to induce shivers.
The performances are proficient, and nothing but. Of them, the three leadsCillian Murphy (2005's "Red Eye
") as Capa, Rose Byrne (2007's "28 Weeks Later
") as Cassie, and Chris Evans (2007's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
") as Maceget the bulk of the memorable material. "Sunshine" is not an actor's film, though; the humans are pawns servicing a story that is stylistically mesmerizing, gripping in its action, and impressive in its sensibly scattered visual effects work. If director Danny Boyle's goal was to tackle something deeper than this and make a greater statement about our future as human beings, the scope of his work lacks clarity. Taken for what it is, howevera moody, classy, skin-deep sci-fi piece"Sunshine" gets enough right to please genre buffs.