Fernby Films brings you another reposting of a review previously presented on this website in an alternate format. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine was originally reviewed by me over Christmas 2007, and the original review is now presented in it’s entirety, for increased profile.
Danny Boyle has been something of a mixed bag since he directed Trainspotting and put himself on the map. On one hand, he has a solid grasp of the magical (Millions, for one, is a fabulous film), the gritty (the aforementioned Trainspotting) as well as the truly horrific (Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later). But its the drama that has let him down (The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary) and Sunshine is no exception. And categorizing a sci-fi film as a drama is no mean feat.
Let me just say at the start that I enjoyed this film’s beginning immensely. It’s no Star Wars, but then, it never intended to be. The trailers hyped it as some bizarre mix of Event Horizon and 2001, A Space Odyssey; an homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece is even featured in one scene in the film. Where Sunshine plays differently, however, is that it’s a more ensemble film, with some tense moments thrown in.
The film takes place in an unknown future time where the sun has begun to burn out, and a team of scientists and astronauts are traveling on Icarus II to throw a ginormous nuclear weapon into the dying star to reignite it. Sounds easy when you say it fast, right? Well, unfortunately, things go bad when the crew of the vessel discover a signal from the Icarus I, the first ship to be sent to the Sun with a nuclear bomb attached. You see, Icarus I went AWOL years before and their mission declared a failure. So when the crew of Icarus II run into difficulty and their mission is also placed in jeopardy, they decide to rendezvous with the other vessel and plunder its precious cargo of oxygen and the second bomb.
And its then that things start to go wrong with the film. It seems that the seemingly deserted Icarus I is not so deserted after all. This turns what began as a great little Space Odyssey clone into an Even Horizon mess.
The cast includes Cillian Murphy (whom Boyle directed in 28 Days Later, and who also starred as Scarecrow in Batman Begins), Chris Evans (The Human Torch from the Fantastic 4 films series) and the beautiful Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Also involved, although in a somewhat smaller role, is Australia’s Rose Byrne. They are up to the task, each individually, of carrying this film, however their dialogue and characterizations are dry and somewhat distant, and as an ensemble, they do not click. I cannot put my finger on why such a talented cast would not get more emotion up on screen, but it appears to have worked in reverse. I felt no real empathy towards these characters; they seemed to be stock characters we’ve seen before in any number of lost in space movies. There’s the brave but flawed Captain, who sacrifices himself so he can get a better view of the sun. There’s the fidgety and coming-unhinged navigator who blames himself for the mission going wrong. There’s the strong and pragmatic crewman who leads the crew emotionally by not revealing his own feelings (Evans) and has a smart comment for every situation.
You can see where Boyle was trying to go with this film and his characters, but it just doesn’t seem to work. And the last act, where the film degenerates into The Blair Witch Project in space, made my head spin for the class I figured Boyle would show at this time. The old plot twist alluded to in Paul W S Anderson’s Event Horizon (where a long-dead crew-member is not quite as long-dead as we thought) made me actually groan when it occurred twenty minutes from the end. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film, but you’ll know it when it happens. And it’s such a B-movie cliche that I nearly turned off the film at that stage. I was utterly disappointed.
Story aside, the film does have its moments. The special effects are simply stunning. A key moment in the film, where the crew of the Icarus II look out at the Sun just as Mercury passes by in silhouette is pure magic. In fact, each time the sun is seen, its magic. One key scene has two crew-members go outside the ship to repair some damaged part of the stricken vessel, and this is perhaps the most visually arresting and tense part of the entire journey.
The film’s logic is based on a sense of realism, but ultimately comes apart at the end. Flying towards the sun is all well and good, but flying into the sun? No matter what material science concocted here on Earth, it would not be able to achieve that is required at the conclusion of this film. And that’s where the film lost me as well. Films based on “real” science for their believability should not throw that “reality” to the wind at the last minute, as it rips the audience out of the film and destroys all you have built up in the hour or so prior.
While Sunshine does have some excellent moments, ultimately, it is flawed and cliche-ridden exercise that does little to recommend it at the end of the day.