Danny Boyle's attempt at a genre-defying, profundity-spewing Space Odyssey crusher comes up a little short, but it does evoke the perplexity such an ambitious movie would hope to.
The year is 2057 and, Al Gore be damned, global cooling is threatening mankind: The sun is on the verge of death, which would equal the death of the planet. Seven years earlier, a space mission, Icarus I, was shot up to deliver a payload that would reignite the sun; nobody has since heard from those aboard, all of whom are assumed dead. Now it's up to Icarus II, comprised of an eight-passenger crew of physicists and astronauts led by Capt. Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) and including pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and archrivals Capa (Cillian Murphy) and Mace (Chris Evans). As the ship is floating along, a blip shows up on the audible radar, ostensibly coming from Icarus I. The crew is faced with a difficult, crucial decision, only to be compounded when a miscalculation by the navigator (Benedict Wong) takes them slightly off course. If they pursue the signal from Icarus I, it could unlock key secrets as to what went wrong the first time and provide an extra payloador it could be a fatal mistake. Either way, it's nowhere near the toughest decision they'll be forced to make.
As a heartthrob who can act, Cillian Murphy is precisely the double threat Chris Evans aspires to be someday soon. Maybe that'll happen on his next movie, The Nanny Diaries, because Sunshine finds him miscastand testosterone-y when he's supposed to be testy. Evans, fresh off the more suitable Fantastic Four sequel, isn't quite cut out for the heady stuff in which he must internalize his inner action star. Murphy, to be fair, is no great shakes either. Clearly he's now a Danny Boyle favorite, but in their last collaboration, 2002's 28 Days Later, the doomsday scenario was different and Murphy's character would've been toast if he were half as sedate as his character Capa is in Sunshine. He comes alive towards the end, but that's when the movie comes undone. A possible future Boyle favorite, talented Aussie actress Byrne, who starred in this year's Boyle-produced 28 Weeks Later, could've benefited from more face timeas could have the film. In other words, there's no true female voice. Talented supporters like Yeoh (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Troy Garity (Barbershop), who stars as the second-in-command, are grossly underused, but Sunshine does need all the Chris Evans it can muster lest bad box office attacks.
Just as his actors in Sunshine are our last great hope to save the dying sun, director Danny Boyle may be our last great hope to save the sci-fi genre. Accordingly, sci-fi fans will definitely love where Boyle's head is at, but the rest of us will think he's just got a bad case of ADD. Boyle, director of beloved movies Trainspotting and 28 Days Later as well as largely reviled The Beach, spends most of the movie with proper pacing, messages and themesonly to erase it all from our memories with a spastic final act. He takes the ending in all manner of directions and genres after sucking us in with serious, quasi-topical commentary on life in general and life aboard a spaceship. It's too bad. Ditto writer/frequent collaborator Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later), who touches on some fascinating far regions of sci-fi-dom but winds up leaving them in space dust to co-indulge on the ending. The superb cinematography is on par with that of Boyle's past work, but the simpler shots are more entrancing than the complex ones: When the characters sit on an observation deck to reflect on a close-up of the burning sun, it's more profound and impressive than the frenetic, special-effects-heavy camerawork at the end. Which is perhaps the best way to sum up the slow-fast dynamic of the film.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.