I have been a fan of Danny Boyle's movies, though I've watched only but a handful of his movies - Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, 28 Days Later and Millions. Teaming up with Alex Garland, who wrote the novel The Beach, and the story for 28 Days Later, they team up again for this futuristic science fiction thriller, where a group of astronauts and scientist, aboard Earth's last hope for salvation - the Icarus II, in an attempt to deliver a "payload" of nukes to the Sun's core, to reignite our solar star and bring warmth back to a freezing Earth.
From the onset where the Fox Searchlight logo makes way to the horizon where the sun peeks over valley and mountains, Sunshine wastes no time in establishing our crew of 8 - Capa (Cillian Murphy from 28 Days Later) the physicist, the MVP crew member who knows how to activate the bomb, which makes him not only valuable, but provided a minor plot hole quibble about this indispensability, Mace the engineer, played by Chris Evans, in a major departure from his usual jock roles in Cellular and Fantastic Four, Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) the botanist, in charge of the agriculture, hydroponic food and eco-garden to provide oxygen on board, Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada, whom I last saw in the dismal The Promise) as the Captain, Cassie (Rose Byrne) the pilot of the Icarus II, Searle (Cliff Curtis) the doctor, Harvey (Troy Garity) the communications officer who finds his value dip when his equipment got fried, and Trey (Benedict Wong) the navigator whose "to err is human" shakes up the entire movie.
It does seem like the jolly crew of the Enterprise really boldly going where no man has gone before, doesn't it? Even the Icarus II has a dish like structure for its payload and a separable capsule for its crew quarters. Nonetheless as you sit through the movie, it does bring shades of movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey for its intelligent HAL-like onboard computer, Star Trek for its crew structure and space walks, Alien for its dark, dank claustrophobic spaceship corridors, and even the all-out action USofA ra-ra movie Armageddon for its nuke mission. However, Sunshine stems its own signature in the crowded field of space mission movies, and quite superficially though, made it a mixture of men and women in a potentially suicidal mission to save mankind from doom, and a multi-cultural/racial crew, as compared to Armageddon's team of redneck jocks.
Danny Boyle managed to combined most of the good stuff from those movies, in a sort of adoption of best practices, and weaved in a moving drama about sacrificing for the greater good or for the objective, the perennial morality versus mortality question, and that of self-preservation. It's easy to make it the usual run off the mill movie combining action horror and mystery, but Boyle fused them all together with his distinct style, making Sunshine engaging at every level, be it the set action sequences to keep you at the edge of your seat, or cringe at the unknown horror kept under wraps for the most part, or be quizzical at the mystery as it unfolds. Although the development of team dynamics do seem choppy, there were instances where you can identify cliques and survivor styled alliances. I thought perhaps an extended DVD version will be able to put this aspect of characterization right.
The movie's pace is measured and kept tight and tense, leaving no room for idle development though. You might expect certain outcome with regards to the set action pieces, but somehow, you don't feel like trying to guess who'll survive and who'll not. In fact, chances are you're likely to cling onto every sliver of hope that the crew will survive every ordeal thrown at them, and boy, do they get quite a number of challenges to deal with, each of them distinct, different, and likely to keep you engaged as it develops, formulaic or otherwise. Some though, might make you cry.
There are plentiful CG effects, most of which are the beautifully stunning Sun images, as well as nifty effects works of the consequences of space travel. There's a nice end credits sequence which almost summarizes the entire movie, giving you an opportunity to relive some of the key scenes again. Accompanied by a great track called "The Avenue of Hope", I was left curious though that the song was also subtitled (in Mandarin) as it played.
Sunshine's strengths lie in its ability to release a leash of familiarity, and then reeling you in with a refreshing take on things expected to happen. It's one of the more accessible science fiction movie to date, which doesn't go all too preachy with the supposed messages it's trying to put across. You can watch and enjoy it at face value, or go bonkers debating over the philosophy behind the decisions undertaken by the crew. Sunshine is excellent - two thumbs up!