In a bold attempt to create a fresh update on the ever-flagging sci-fi movie genre, director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later)
achieves a visually stunning cinematic poem that is as bewitching as it
is infuriating for its dependence on genre cliches. A crew of eight
scientists, engineers and astronauts helm the Icarus II,
a massive nuclear bomb-laden craft on a last-ditch mission to reignite
part of the sun to end a solar winter threatening to destroy life on
The year is 2057, and 16 months into the mission the male and female team get a distress beacon from the original Icarus I
craft that disappeared seven years earlier. As they grapple over
whether to answer the call, the crew exposes their vital task to
Sunshine is perhaps the first science fiction movie since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
to approach that magnificent film’s vivid otherworldly dynamic. Boyle
takes full advantage of state-of-the-art CGI artistry toward a
narrative strategy that convinces before imploding with the arrival of
a grotesque antagonist in the third act.
In the opening shot we witness the tremendous burning platinum sun
as a fetish object for the ship’s Medical Officer Searle (Cliff Curtis—Whale Rider)
who watches it through a large window at two percent of its brilliance
as regulated by the ship’s female-voiced computer. Searle asks the
mainframe to double the intensity only to learn that such brightness
would blind him. Here is a man so completely seduced by the sun’s
extraordinary power that his logic is irreparably impugned.
Still, Searle takes a backseat to onboard physicist Capa (Cillian
Murphy) and the ship’s testosterone-driven engineer Mace (Chris Evans).
Capa and Mace engage in some unexplained fisticuffs on a couple of
occasions that point out the screenwriter’s laziness in fleshing out
relationships between the crewmembers.
As the one person capable of activating the ship’s Manhattan-sized
atomic payload, Capa is an emotionally aloof protagonist whose flawed
judgment enables the group to divert their mission. Entrusted with
charting a course that will still allow enough fuel and oxygen to
deliver their explosive device, navigation officer Trey (Benedict Wong)
overrides the ship’s mainframe with a miscalculation that sends the
team into a desperate grab at salvaging their original intent.
Internal power plays and individual crises collide when four members of the team explore the dust-covered remains of the barren Icarus I spacecraft. Echoes of Ridley Scott’s Alien
prevail as the would-be rescuers discover an insane surviving Captain
Pinbacker (Mark Strong) who has become a flesh-dripping monster intent
on killing them. But it’s this problematic villainous subplot that
switches the previously big idea picture into a slasher chase thriller
that pollutes the simplicity that has gone before.
Screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later)
researched much of the hard science referenced in the film with the
help of British physicist Dr. Brian Cox, but his script dents Boyle’s
radical visual approach with a silly B-movie sci-fi contrivance. For as
impressive as the Icarus II’s
gold colored mile-wide reflective disc is for its protective reflecting
power against the Sun, the introduction of a fuzzy-framed ghost man
neutralizes the poetic spell.
And yet, the most egregious oversight lies in the squandering of
secondary characters biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and ship’s pilot
Cassie (Rose Byrne) as the film’s female repository of wisdom and
potential source of sexual energy. The women function as surrogate
audience members who witness, as we do, the damage that collects around
the ankles of men on the brink of insanity.
Nevertheless, Danny Boyle’s technical and commercial innovations in
cinema are as relevant today as they were when he shook the world by
the scruff of its neck with Trainspotting. He’s well on his way toward creating a masterpiece, if only he finds the right source material. MTW