Every single visual in Sunshine is gorgeous. Clearly the filmmakers were trying to out compose 2001. The lighting, colors, and composition are nearly flawless. Even the prettiest shots exist more to tell the story, than as eye candy.
In the near future, the sun’s nuclear reaction has declined, wrapping the Earth in a solar winter. A bomb was created to reignite Sol. A team was chosen and launched into space. They disappeared. It took seven years to build another bomb. A second mission was launched. Enormous resources have been expended on this project and there will never be another payload. If this missions fails, humanity is over.
On their way, they encounter the Icarus I. The rest of the film crosses genres to ask two main questions: what happened to the Icarus I, and will the crew of the Icarus II be able to complete the mission to save life on Earth?
The type of problems the captain and crew encounter on this second mission are scientific and frightening. Solar shield failure, oxygen generation system destruction, radiation, and flubbed trajectories. In all of that, the question becomes how do real people respond to desperate crises. Human frailty and ego are contrasted with selflessness, heroics and mortal determination.
What a fabulous cast. Name check: Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha), Hiroyuki Sanada (Twilight Samurai, The Last Samurai), Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight, Inception, 28 Days Later), Cliff Curtis (Training Day, The Whale Rider). Here are actors usually relegated to sidekick status being utilized to better effect; and they shine- especially Curtis and Murphy.
There is a singular aspect of Sunshine that prevents the plot from being perfect, even dragging the entire film down: the third act practically degenerates into a slasher. A beautiful, but standard slasher. It’s as if the writer or studio decided that the film had been too cerebral, and that what was needed was a little raw bloody murder. There is nothing wrong with making a slasher, even a science fiction slasher, but Sunshine fails to deliver on the premise of problems introduced in the first two acts. The pacing is thrown a loop when the mystery is solved too swiftly, and the fight for humanity is reduced to pugilistics. Even though the antagonist’s motivations are understandable, and even sympathetic, the entire concept of a physical antagonist distracts from the real central conflict, which is character based. It is difficult to accept that anyone smart enough to be on this mission would have his plan thrown on the dice of fisticuffs.
Sunshine is probably the most well lit, stunningly composed, alluring science fiction film made in the first decade of the new millennium. Although an impressive, must-see feature film for fans of science fiction, Sunshine could have been so much more, if only its makers had maintained the integrity of the premise. What the film got incredibly right, was to avoid a forced, b-story romance, and to leave out the silly jokes that humanity’s absolute last hope would not be making in this situation. These two filmmaking choices are realistic, refreshing, and add to the intensity of the mission. Unfortunately the aspirations of the film outstrip the plot’s unnecessary submission to convention.
Film Score: 3.9 (Out of 5)
How We Rate Films