A film of apocalyptic doom, death and desperation it may be, but peer beyond the shades and you’ll find beauty in Sunshine – Danny Boyle’s very different addition to an already varied CV. It’s a beauty borne out of the gold glare of our favourite star, captured in all its magnetic danger and wonder, and it’s a beauty found in a simple message astronaut/physicist/bloke you’ll recognise Capa (Cillian Murphy) delivers home. “If you wake up one morning and it’s a particularly beautiful day,” he whispers, electric blue eyes glimmering, “you’ll know we made it.” Gosh, splutter, people doing things for the greater good...
Capa is one of eight we join on a mission to reignite the sun. Repeat: to reignite the sun. With a nuclear “payload” the mass of Manhattan. That’s bloody huge. They’ve been cruising for 16 months and, understandably considering their ship is Icarus II and no one knows what happened to Icarus I, the mood is tense. “Our sun is dying... Our planet is dying,” is the mantra as they shift 55 million miles to the outskirts of space and, before you can say Event Horizon, the expedition’s gone belly up.
Jumping from scenes of extreme radiance to bloody violence, from cosy chats to bleeding obvious waffle, Sunshine is a space opera of confused purpose. The stated subtext of science vs faith, and who we turn to in desperate peril, only stutters to life, while the global cooling of Alex Garland’s script risks irrelevance, locked out of a time that frets over global warming. Also, with the first hour’s mesmerising stillness setting the scene for personal journeys among universal terror, the finale’s ferocity feels out of place, dragging viewers from a meditative experience and plonking them into a brawny action romp.
That said, an elegance permeates near every frame, Boyle’s honed craft seeping like morning rays through a Venetian blind. The production design is exquisite (even if questions need to be asked about the Quality Street-wrapper spacesuits) and despite having nothing to gauge size against (space is a rather empty place, after all), Icarus II is a majestic weapon – its sunshade shield perfectly striking the balance between practicality and movie glitz. What’s more, the astronauts’ plan, as they freely admit, is entirely theoretical, not clogging up the film with nerdy specifics certain to alienate those who treat sci-fi speak as a complex irrelevance; “The X, the Y of the vector B...” Skip to the end.
So what if Sunshine borrows significantly from certain other space adventures? It’s better than Horizon and no one’s seen Solaris anyway. With the air running out, Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) suggests to selected cohorts that three of the seven should be sacrificed, to spread the remaining O2 further. You’ll care about some (Yeoh, Murphy, peeling psychiatrist Cliff Curtis), you won’t about others (Troy Garity’s spineless Harvey), but liking everyone’s not what life’s about. It’s about doing your bit for the neighbours, for the neighbours’ neighbours and enjoying the view as one trundles along. Which, neatly, sums Sunshine right up.
Sci-fi spectacle meets intimate drama. Murphy leads a strong ensemble cast as Boyle nails yet another genre.