Saturday, August 3, 2013

Spreading the Sunshine

I'm gonna try something different this time around.  I'm going to review a movie, and a damned good one, if you ask me.  You didn't, but since you're reading this I'm gonna assume you take my opinion as gospel.  I'll try to live up to your faith in me. 
In 2007, Danny Boyle, director of brilliant movies like Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, tried his hand at sci fi with this little-seen and hopelessly-neglected movie titled Sunshine.  Admittedly it doesn't sound like great sci fi with a lame title like that, which might possibly explain why genre fans have never heard of it, much less seen it.  I think "Sunlight" would have been a better title but no one asked me.  Regardless, I'm about to lay some knowledge on you about this awesome and brilliant movie in the hopes you'll give it a go.  You won't be disappointed.

This is the opening voiceover from Cillian Murphy's character: "Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus Project sent a mission to restart the sun, but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload, a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose, to create a star within a star.  Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus II."
It's written by Alex Garland, who has worked with Danny Boyle on the two movies mentioned above as well as The Beach and other worthy endeavors.  The story and screenplay are airtight.  I wish I had written this.  For an author, that's the highest compliment possible.  This is what I refer to as "smart sci fi."  By that I mean the situations and the technology in this movie are not the stuff of fantasy.  There's no warp drive or lightsabres to be found.  This could happen.  It's easy enough to believe mankind is even now capable of building a ship like the Icarus II.  Here's a look: 


The bulky and heavy spacesuits were based, in part, on Kenny from South Park!
The only real technological conceit the filmmakers made was the artificial gravity aboard the ship.  I can live with that.  It was certainly cheaper than attaching wires to every actor in every scene in order to simulate weightlessness.  That aside, and, I suppose, the stellar bomb itself, there is no technology presented in the movie that we either don't already have or we believe we can create.  To me this puts it in the same category as 2001 and, to a lesser extent, Alien.  That's right, I just compared this movie favorably to two of the best sci fi movies ever made.  It's that good.
The cast is awesome.  The captain of the Icarus II is Kaneda, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, known as "the Harrison Ford of Japan."  Fans of Lost will recognize him as Dogen, the leader of the Others at that strange temple on the island.  He kicks ass in this movie.

The rest of the crew is made up of great actors perfectly cast.  They are:

Troy Garity as first officer Harvey; Cillian Murphy as payload specialist Capa; Michelle Yeoh as Corazon; the gorgeous-beyond-words Rose Byrne as Cassie; Cliff Curtis as Dr. Searle; Benedict Wong as Trey; and Chris "Captain America" Evans as Mace.  Each and every character in this movie has a distinct personality and you believe they would have been chosen to carry out a mission as important as this one.  Kudos to the casting director.
As the Icarus II prepares to slingshot around Mercury (the planet, not the lead singer of Queen) they pick up an automatic distress signal from the Icarus I, lost seven years earlier.  The crew are split on whether or not to go to their aid but circumstances force them to do just that.  They locate their sister ship:

 and go to their rescue:

This is the part where I put in a giant SPOILER ALERT.  If you plan to see the movie you might want to stop reading here and skip to the end. 
The Icarus I is powerless although life support is functioning.  The interior of the ship is covered with dust.  The boarding party finds the crew in the observation room, burned to death.  A cryptic log entry made by the Icarus I's captain, Pinbacker (played to the hilt by perennial bad guy Mark Strong) indicates the crew abandoned their mission because they felt God intended for mankind to die and it was not their place to question His will.  And then the shit hits the fan.  An explosion separates the two ships, stranding Mace, Capa, Searle and Harvey aboard the derelict Icarus I

They come up with a daring plan to make it back aboard their ship.  The results are mixed, to say the least.  Once back aboard their own ship the survivors continue their mission.  But a lethal stowaway has other plans for them.  When Capa realizes there's someone on the ship with them he tracks their mystery guest to the observation room.  It doesn't go well.

The intruder finds a way to shut down the Icarus II.  Realizing the only way they can complete their mission and save mankind is to separate the payload and force it into the sun, Capa sets about doing just that, even though it will kill him and the rest of his crew.  It is a thrilling sequence.  See for yourself:

Capa flies between the Icarus II and the payload.

 The payload boosters fire, destroying the Icarus II's heatshield.

When Capa finally boards the payload, he sees this:

Trapped aboard a giant bomb falling into the sun and stalked by a psychotic religious nut, can Capa survive long enough to activate the stellar bomb?  What do you think?

This movie kicks one hundred different kinds of ass.  It is whip-smart, character-driven (after you get past the reason for them being out in space) and one hell of a great ride.  Seriously, you owe it to yourself to check this out.  I rate this movie 5/5 stars.  It's as good as is humanly possible.  Go see it and get back to me.  You'll be glad you did.
And before we end this review, one more shot of the beautiful Rose Byrne.

You're welcome.  


  1. This movie is really a masterpiece. Beautifully shot, wonderfully written and performed, and packs an emotional wallop bar none. Criminally underrated. Glad to see it getting some love and a nice write-up here!

  2. This review could be by me, I have exactly the same thoughts about this movie as you. I wonder though why you didn't manage the music. That beautiful and endlessly haunting tunes by John Murphy and Underworld. God... 6 out of 5 stars from me.

    Check out my soundtrack covers, I think you may like them:

  3. You're right, I dropped the ball by not mentioning the score. It is flawless. It fits this movie as well as William's score fits Jaws. That's how good it is. Another thing I neglected to mention is this: The music playing as Capa tries to escape the Icarus II before the boosters fire is used in episode five of The Walking Dead. As the group leaves their camp behind and heads for the CDC we hear this same music. Anytime AMC plays a TWD marathon and I catch that scene it makes me want to watch Sunshine again. The score is yet another reason, as if anyone needs one, to see this movie!