Starring: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Troy Garity, Benedict Wong
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Seeing 28 Days Later for the first time earlier this year made me excited to see two movies this summer. The first being the obvious, its sequel 28 Weeks Later. Sunshine, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, the creative team behind 28 Days Later (who only stuck around for the sequel as executive producers), was the second.
I wanted to see it without even knowing what it was about, figuring that the people responsible for a movie as clever and exciting as 28 Days Later had a good shot at capturing the same magic again. And in terms of cleverness and excitement, they did.
Sunshine tells the tale of a crew of astronauts aboard the Icarus II, sent on a mission to save the dying sun in the year 2057. The ship carries a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan designed to reignite the sun, whose weakness has left the Earth in a state of nuclear winter. Along the way, the eight-person crew of the Icarus II receive a distress signal from the Icarus I, which was lost on the same mission seven years previous.
As you can imagine, this is where things start to go wrong, delivering the chills and thrills for this sci-fi pseudo-horror. Most of what goes on in Sunshine is formulaic, and has been done before in other space movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, or Event Horizon. Similarly, most of what happened in 28 Days Later had been done before in earlier zombie movies. For both movies, it’s not so much what happens as it is the style in which it happens that makes the movies powerful. Boyle and Garland might not have come up with most unique premise or plot, but the details and ideas are clever and engrossing, and the visuals are phenomenal.
I can’t emphasize this enough, Sunshine is a powerful cinematic experience, with a visual style that makes it worth seeing on its own, all achieved for a modest $50 million budget (and looking better than most of the summer blockbusters shot for multiple times that amount). It’s unfortunate that most people who end up seeing this (if they do at all) will do so on DVD, cause if there was ever a movie begging for the experience of a darkened theatre, this is it. The sun plays like an extra character in the movie, full of equal parts beauty and horror. The result is a movie that I watched in gaping, wide-eyed awe.
While I found the movie spellbinding and captivating, it does have it’s flaws. Along with the familiar plotting, the final act is a bit of a mess, featuring a device that is right up Boyle and Garland’s alley, but was unnecessary for this movie, and comes off as rushed and thrown together. Their attention seemed to be focused on the first half of the movie, which is truly compelling, to the point where they were unsure as to how to end the movie. It’s a problem that has put off some to the movie, but by that point I was too blown away to care.