Sunshine (UK; 108 min.)

directed by: Danny Boyle
starring: Cillian Murphy; Chris Evans; Rose Byrne; Michelle Yeoh

Michael says: "After leaving the theatre, Jeff asked me if I liked science fiction movies. I told him that I liked reading science fiction, but that there were very few good science fiction movies. Unfortunately, SUNSHINE does not buck this trend. I was actually all over the place with this combination hard science fiction/thriller. During the first quarter I wasn’t really enjoying the film because of the characters. By the mid-point I found myself enjoying the film quite a bit. Then during the final third, thinks got fairly silly. During the post-film discussion, I was very mixed coming down more squarely on the negative. The next morning I was still mixed but remembered the film more positively.

"SUNSHINE, set 50 years in the future, tells the story of eight astronauts with a mission to jumpstart the dying sun by detonating a bomb the size of Manhattan in its core. Flying in the poorly-named Icarus 2 (I’m sure you know the myth of Icarus), they are the second attempt for the mission after the first Icarus disappeared 7 years ago. They are all intensely aware that if their mission fails, the earth dies. I was struck, as the film introduces the 8 crewmembers, that there had to be much better hands into which to put the fate of the world. This was the film’s first problem for me. I recently read an excellent novel called Blindsight by Peter Watts that shared some similarities to SUNSHINE. Because of the important and dangerous nature of their space mission, the crew was populated by an odd collection of mutants and genetically altered humans. This gave them the needed skills and abilities to carry-out the mission, but also added some fairly debilitating quirks and neuroses and made for some pretty fascinating characters. In SUNSHINE what we’ve got is a superficially competent, secretly dysfunctional bunch of oddballs.

"As the Icarus 2 and her crew near the sun, they stumble upon a distress signal from the original Icarus. The decision to deviate from their mission and look for their lost predecessor kicks off a chain of disasters that whittles down the crew and leads them on the path to disaster themselves. An element is introduced in the final third of the film that is neither well-explained nor necessary, and reinforces some of the vaguely metaphysical ideas that were floating around earlier in the film. Screenwriter Alex Garland includes some fairly mystical stuff regarding the sun and its proximity. It’s fine as some background, or as the crew’s psychologist’s obsession with the sun and its intense light; but when it comes to the fore toward the conclusion, it’s distracting and a little silly.

"I’m fairly mixed about the cast as well. Rose Byrne (THE RAGE IN PLACID LAKE; MARIE ANTOINETTE) is strong as the outwardly-taciturn, inwardly sensitive Cassie; as is past Chlotrudis-nominee Michelle Yeoh (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) as the passionate botanist Corazon. Cillian Murphy stars; and although he does a good job, there’s something about him, and I’m guessing it’s got to be his ethereal, fey appearance, that is incredibly distracting for some of his roles. Chris Evans (THE FANTASTIC FOUR) has been getting some good notices, both from some of the folk I saw the film with, and other reviews, but I didn’t think he did a very good job, lacking any depth or subtlety except what was clumsily included in the script. And therein lay the biggest weakness for me. Garland’s writing was clumsy, obvious and a little too referential of other work. Most of the characters were brushed so broadly that they were reduced to earnest character types. I shouldn’t actually blame Evans; I’m sure it was the scripts fault.

"All of that said, the visual design was absolutely stunning. The overall plot had moments of drama, emotion and excitement. There are a couple of truly chilling moments that were clearly a product of Boyle’s intensely focused directorial style. The lighting, as you might expect given the subject matter, was nothing short of amazing. As I said, this is a mixed bag that’s sure to draw mixed notices. For me, despite this negative-sounding review, I come squarely down in the middle with 3 cats."