When Sunshine came out in theaters last summer, the previews presented it as a big sci-fi action movie. The trailers piqued my interest; it seemed like it could be one of those rare action movies with a brain. The movie is not that. It is not a mindless action film either. Part of the problem is the movie does not know what it wants to be. Ultimately, it comes down to another interesting premise wasted.
The interesting premise is that the sun is dying, and a group of astronauts is sent to revive it. Their mission is to drop a nuclear bomb to restart it.They fly on the Icarus II, a spaceship with highly advanced AI with which they hold conversations. The character we follow throughout most of the movie is Capa, played by Cillian Murphy. He is the mission's physicist, and as such is the most important member of the crew because he is only one who can make the calculations for the bomb-drop.
For about the first half hour of the movie, nothing happens. Then, the astronauts discover a distress signal from the original Icarus. The Icarus I had set out on the same mission as the new one, but failed. The Icarus II crew decide to deviate from their course and go to Icarus I, mainly for the chance to have a backup bomb. Right before they reach the Icarus I is when things start to go haywire and the crew begins to turn on each other.
This is a very schizophrenic movie. For the first forty-five minutes, it seems like it is an abstract statement or an allegory about the transience of man in the universe like 2001: A Space Odyssey and A.I. Then, when things start happening, it seems like it is going to be an interpersonal drama with some allegorical themes. Finally, the last half hour of the movie inexplicably turns into a horror movie. It is almost as if the film's director, Danny Boyle, wanted to make a new 2001 and then realized he did not have as much to say about the human condition as Kubrick did.
The movie is technically sound. All the effects and the set design of the ship are quite good. The horror elements of the movie are even executed well.
The problem is the script. Character personalities vacillate wildly. Capa seems like the moral compass of the crew at first, and then the voice of reason, and then just some guy trying to finish his job. Michelle Yeoh plays Corazon, the ship's botanist. She is very tender towards her plants, but suggests killing off other crew members to save oxygen. Chris Evans plays Mace, who at times seems like Capa's rival and at other times his best friend. Sometimes he is the voice of reason on the ship, sometimes he is a hothead who only thinks about himself. Perhaps Boyle was trying to say something about how prolonged periods away from civilization change you. If so, he did not do a very good job.
The movie did have some things going for it, but every time it seemed like it was going somewhere, the tone changed drastically. While watching it, I could not help of think of better movies that explored similar themes or territory better. 2001: A Space Odyssey used space travel to convey the meaningless of man in the universe better, Apocalypse Now used Vietnam to convey the degradation of humanity in the absence of civilization better, and Alien explored what a horror film would be like in space better. Oh and, all those films were not deathly boring.