by MP Bartley
There are some directors working today who have no readily identifiable trademark, or who do not return to the same genre time and time again. Peter Weir and Alan Parker are two, and another is certainly Danny Boyle. Actually, perhaps one trademark is that whichever genre they turn their hand to, they nail it almost perfectly. Boyle has so far shown a mastery over crackhead black comedy, horror, noir, children's films and, yes, even travelogue (we'll ignore his attempt at romantic comedy for now). Now Boyle has demonstrated his control over another genre - sci-fi. And if it's an attempt that perhaps loses its footing by the end, it's still an effort that is likely to earn a sunspot on most critics end of year lists.Humanity has always known that we are an ultimately doomed race. Never mind our rape of the environment, the ever escalating nuclear proliferation or Bush's "yee-hah!" foreign policy, we've always been aware that one day our sun will die, abandoning us to a freezing, wintry end. Sunshine however tells us that this is a day far closer than we imagined. The sun is dying and the entirety of the world has already been plunged into the beginnings of a deep freeze. There is a hope however: a nuclear bomb, the size of a city block, has been assembled and is being towed to the sun by the spaceship Icarus 2, protected by a huge, iris shaped, reflective shield. The mission for Icarus 2, it's 8 man crew led by captain Kenada (Hiroyuki Sanada), alongside other crew members such as payload expert Capa (Cillian Murphy, using his mixture of intelligent sensitivity and nervous unpredictability to great effect), pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), agricultural scientist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), doctor Searle (Cliff Curtis) and technical expert Mace (Chris Evans, displaying a nasty toughness far beyond his fratboy goofiness from the likes of Fantastic Four), is to drop the bomb into the sun, thus restarting it and saving humanity.
"Scorching! Dazzling! Bring your shades! Can I be a quote whore now please?"
It's a dangerous mission, and as the name of the ship suggests, not the first attempt. The Icarus was the first attempt to kickstart the sun, a mission that seemingly ended in failure when it simply disappeared without trace. That is until Icarus 2 picks up a distress signal from it, asking the question is an already dangerous but vitally important job, worth complicating even further?
Danny Boyle and scripter Alex Garland clearly know their sci-fi and Sunshine doesn't make any outright claim at originality. The scenes of crew members lazily bickering with each other in cramped corridors and eating rooms remind us of Alien, huge vistas of the sun and Mercury are reminiscent of Solaris, the gardens in space are a nod to Silent Running while the contrast of tiny men against the vast emptiness of space are a healthy shake of 2001: A Space Odyessy into the mix. Unlike other directors however, Boyle isn't interested into thrusting his references into your face at the expense of the film. There are nods to other films sure, but he refrains from giving them handjobs that only the geekiest would understand. This isn't a pastiche of the sci-fi genre, this is a sci-fi film that easily stands comparison with its predecessors and doesn't feel the need to worship them to do so.
Instead, Boyle has far much fun pushing his budget as far as it can go (scenes of the sun are simply jaw dropping, whilst the Icarus 2 has that futuristic-but-not-that-much feel that Aliens pulled off so well), and thrusting the crew, and us, into set piece after set piece. Sunshine has a not too substantial running time, and Boyle doesn't waste a second of it. There are no flashbacks to tearful goodbyes with relatives and loved ones, and the crew don't idly banter comic relief with each other (arguably they could and should do, as we never feel we know the Icarus 2 crew, like we did the crew of the Nostromo). Instead the crew speak in terse mission statements or crisis updates at each other, and boy is crisis management needed here. Boyle grabs us by the throat from the start, and doesn't let go, upping the stakes and the danger with which we've faced. It's a neat trick of claustrophobic direction in the vastness of space, but Boyle pulls it off at a relentless pace. The sheer velocity of the film enables us to whizz past some iffy science (why doesn't the ship melt?) and the occasional gaping hole in the logic (at one point Mace callously volunteers Capa for a hugely dangerous repair mission, yet at the next instance of death instantly decides that Capa should get the one shot of survival to ensure the safety of the payload), right up to the climax...which is bound to be a big talking point as at this point the film tips its hat to Event Horizon slightly.
It's a considerable jump from the path that the film was following for the first 80% of its running time, and it's not done without a wobble, as it seems a slightly ludicrous tone to end the film with. Personally, Sunshine had me so much by this point that I was willing to go with it, but it's fair to say that it's likely to derail some people completely. Yet having said that, the more you think about it afterwards, the more questions it raises, adding a welcome level of rumination and debate, to Boyle's considerable flash and sizzle.If Sunshine is part Irwin Allen, part Kubrick and part Ridley Scott, it should perhaps be no surprise that the ending is slightly fumbled. Yet it also says that Sunshine displays an ambition alongside it's action leanings that few other sci-fi films do. Don't go expecting comic relief, but do go expecting white knuckles, shortness of breath and an ending that, for better or worse, will have you talking about the film long after you've got home. And then after that be thankful for the summer, be thankful for sunglasses, and be thankful for Danny Boyle.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16024&reviewer=293
originally posted: 04/12/07 21:04:25