With the release of this movie I’d say there’s now officially a subgenre of sci-fi movies about the angst of long distance space travel. Two of my favorite movies ever – 2001 and ALIEN – are in this category. There’s also DARK STAR, a predecessor to ALIEN and an inspiration to this movie (one of the characters is even named Pinback after Dan O’Bannon’s character in that movie). I also liked the remake of SOLARIS, but I still gotta see the original one. Rounding out the category now there’s Danny Boyle’s SUNSHINE.
This one takes place sometime in the future, but probaly not too long in the future. The main difference between then and now: the sun is dying. Pretty shitty. Humanity came up with a plan where they sent a spaceship called The Icarus which would set off a bomb that would reignite the sun. But that ship was a bunch of slackers or something so nobody heard from them again. This is the story of the Icarus II, where they decided to use up Earth’s resources to make the last possible bomb that they could use to try to relight that bitch.
This is not the usual action type of sci-fi. No robots or lasers. The characters are not super heroes, they’re astronauts. They’re a crew of experts. They’re hoping to not only save humanity but to make it back safely, but they know that’s not guaranteed. (If it was their ship would be called The Guy Who Was Like Icarus Except His Wings Didn’t Melt So He Made It Back Safely.)
For most of the movie the drama comes from the tough decisions they have to make. For example they discover the location of the Icarus I and although they all agree that reigniting the sun is more important than saving any possible surviving crew members, a convincing argument is made for why it might be smart to go check out the ship. So they have to follow protocol and a decision has to be made but not everyone agrees. So not only do you have to worry about whether it was the right decision, but about whether the tension between the people who disagree will cause new problems that will lead to other tough decisions.
This team is literally humanity’s last chance at survival. If they do not succeed in putting this bomb in the sun or if it does not work, then the earth will die. Because of this concept everything that happens on board happens with a thousand tons of pressure on top. When they fight with each other, or when they make a mistake, they’re not just endangering themselves, they are endangering human life. Even SPOILER at the end when there’s a guy going around slashing people it has this extra suspense. Because Jason and Freddy never went after people who were on a mission to save humanity. Even if you don’t care about these specific people dying you want to make sure they get that bomb in place.
And you can understand why the pressure fucks them up. I may be confessing too much here but every once in a while a horrible thought comes to me. I see somebody standing near a ledge and I think geez, I could push that guy right off. Wouldn’t that be horrible? And it makes me shiver. Or I think, what if I just yelled FUCK! in this old lady’s face? It’s not like I want to do any of these things, they just occur to me. The most wrong things to do. Well, here is the opportunity for the ultimate version of that. What if I stopped my team from saving humanity? Wouldn’t that be horrible? It’s a terrible place to snap.
From what I’ve heard almost everyone has a problem with the final conflict in this movie. I don’t think the idea is necessarily bad, but when Boyle gets into some 28 DAYS LATER type filmatics to try to amp things up I did get disoriented and lost track of what was going on. For example, I thought Cappa was going to ride the bomb into the sun, but then all the sudden he was inside with his suit off, and I thought wait a minute, is he back in the ship? I guess he must be. But what is this place, I don’t remember seeing a big grid like this? But with the surreal imagery of the villain you never quite see and the sudden stylistic change I also wondered if this was a dream or an afterlife vision or if Boyle was trying to pull a starchild. Then I realized okay, this must be the inside of the bomb, he has gone inside the bomb. But it would’ve been more exciting if I understood that while it was happening instead of piecing it together after the fact.
Danny Boyle is a weird director to me because he’s done some good movies, all of his movies are fairly interesting, but I can’t quite put a finger on what connects them. I don’t think I could see his next movie and think “hey, this must be Danny Boyle.” But he seems to be going through different genres now, he did a kid’s movie that people liked and a not-zombie movie and now here’s his intelligent sci-fi movie. And you don’t get too many of these anymore.
By the way, the actors are all very good. I didn’t know going in who the cast was gonna be. I knew Cillian Murphy from 28 DAYS LATER and BATMAN BEGINS was the star. But also you got Jane Fonda’s son Troy Garity, you got Cliff Curtis from LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, you’ve got the Human Torch from FANTASTIC FOUR (miraculously good) and most of all you got Michelle Yeoh! It’s great to see her doing a role like this although to be honest there was at least one scene where I wished she woulda done some kung fu. Or jumped a motorcycle onto the back of a moving train. In space. But luckily the movie doesn’t need that.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.