If you haven't read it yet, check out my big poppa's review of Sunshine. Otherwise you'll have to settle for mine.
by The Spoon
In the not-too-distant-future, Earth is threatened with a permanent winter and the likely extinction of all life on the planet save cockroaches and Starbucks. The culprit is a Sun on the fritz and the only solution is for a small crew to deliver a Manhattan-sized bomb into the Sun’s core in the hopes of reigniting the dying star and renewing Mankind’s lease on Earth. Eight men and women are assigned to this perilous mission and each of them discovers that a little bit of Sunshine can lead to worse things than unsightly tan-lines.
Sunshine reunites director Danny Boyle and his 28 Days Later star Cillian Murphy and, as in their previous project, Boyle carefully constructs a sense of imminent disaster before going ape-crazy. In 28, tension built up as Cillian wandered through the barren and weirdly alien landscape of a deserted London. Sunshine instead creates unease through the tell tale signs of mounting pressure on board the spaceship Icarus II.
Cillian, as soft-spoken physicist Capa, struggles again and again to find the right tone for his final message to family and friends back on Earth. Psych officer Searle (played by Cliff Curtis) loses himself in sunlight “baths.” The rest of the crew, including Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh, have their own concerns but none are as grave as their Captain’s.
Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) leads the final hope for Mankind yet remains troubled by the unexplained disappearance of the Icarus I while on the exact same mission seven years previous. In one early scene, Kaneda examines one of the final transmissions from the Icarus I’s captain. Kaneda pauses the screen and stares directly into the lost commander’s eyes. It is a portentous moment and perfectly captures the unspoken understanding that whatever dangers befell the Icarus I also waits for them.
Deft and confident, the acting through the first half of the movie is superb. Brilliantly imagined scenarios and a nuanced script allow the cast of Sunshine to (pardon the pun) truly shine. As the natural protagonist, Cillian does not disappoint with his restrained delivery that manages to express equal parts reluctance and determination. His distinctive, angular features, which have caused so much fear in previous roles (Batman Begins, Red Eye), prove just as effective at projecting the unease and suffering of a would-be savior of Earth. But as remarkable as Cillian and the rest of cast are during the movie’s first act, they are easily overshadowed by the film’s cinematography.
Simultaneously majestic and terrifying, the Sun is as much a character as any of the astronauts. Director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Alwin Kulcher have crafted a beautiful vision of space that elevates our nearest star from a mere cosmic placeholder to the vessel of the crew’s - and humanity's - hopes and fears. Amidst the human crew’s many trials, the Sun waits patiently and uncaring, emanating a presence that continuously reminds the audience of the sheer power of the cosmos.
If Sunshine could simply follow through with its early promise as a sci-fi drama this would have been a remarkable film. Unfortunately, somewhere in the 2nd act Boyle apparently decided to begin filming an entirely new movie entitled “28 Days Later in Space.”
Delicate pacing and meaningful dialogue get trashed in favor of cheap thrills and borderline amateurish film techniques. What worked so well in 28 Days Later comes across here as recycled and out-of-place. Sunshine manages to right itself somewhat by the film’s final act but it's ultimately hampered by an ending that lasts at least ten minutes too long.
Through the first act and a half Sunshine raises some very complex issues about the nature of sacrifice but its message is undermined by a third act that is more interested in making the audience jump at every shadow. This is a beautiful, flawed movie that, despite its problems, still manages to “get” the essence of science fiction and is an almost-revelation to fans of the genre. Sunshine burns itself out by the end, but it’s a trip that’s still worth buying a ticket for.