Sunshine

Don't worry, you know I have to review The Simpsons, but that'll be tomorrow instead. Yep, it's a double dose this weekend, to make up for the fact that I couldn't bring myself to watch either John Travolta in drag or Adam Sandler trying to be a comedian last weekend. But this weekend I had almost an embarrassment of choices, and I'd been wanting to see Sunshine just because it sounded cool.

And it was cool, mostly. There were a couple of times, especially towards the end, when I felt like I was watching 28 Days Later, or maybe 28 Weeks Later, in space, but there was a reason for that: this film is directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, both of whom worked on the aforementioned zombie movies in one capacity or another. And Cillian Murphy is in it as well (Jim from 28 Days Later), playing Capa, the physicist, and Rose Byrne is in it (Scarlet from 28 Weeks Later), here playing Cassie, who has some unspecified but apparently important job. They both sound just like they're from the U.S., pretty much, even though they're from Ireland and Australia, respectively.

The story here is that, a few decades into the future, the sun is dying. Not burning out, which it'll do in a few billion years, but rather being disrupted by a theoretical particle that interferes with the normal fission of the sun. (Theoretical in real life, that is, not in the the movie. Heh.) The eight-person crew of the Icarus II is escorting a huge pile of fissionable material (basically a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan) to the sun so they can ignite it, drop it in, and basically reboot the system. At least, so the obviously unproven theory goes.

What happened to the first Icarus, you ask? It was lost seven years ago, under unknown circumstances. The second Icarus is truly mankind's last hope, as it took basically the last of the earth's resources to build. And the ship is gigantic. Considering that one of the major issues they have to face is having enough oxygen for the crew, there are huge parts of it that should probably not be pressurized, but they are for some unexplained reason. Still, I hate to nitpick too much on sci-fi movies about things like that. There are just so many variables in your average sci-fi flick, you'd go crazy trying to smooth over every plot inconsistency. Besides, the geeky fans will find ways to do that retroactively.

The Icarus II has just entered the communication "dead zone" (of course) when everything starts to turn weird. They pick up a distress beacon from their sister ship, and, on physicist Capa's recommendation (or as he puts it, wild guess), they detour to explore the wounded ship in hopes that two piles of fissionable material are better than one.

It was around this point that I was afraid, for a few minutes, that it was going to turn into a standard survival in space/under water/trapped on alien world flick, and it only narrowly avoided that potentially awful fate. But the cast pulled the script over that little problem, and I started liking it again. I don't want to give away the exact problem, but let me just say here that the cast was great. Aside from Murphy and Byrne, we have Michelle Yeoh, who I always like, as Corazon, the botanist in charge of the plants that provide their oxygen; Chris Evans (Johnny Storm from the http://moviecriticnextdoor.com/blogs/moviecriticnd/fantastic_four_rise_silver_surfer>Fantastic Four films, who somehow seems like a much better actor here) as Mace, a tough-guy pilot/astronaut; and Cliff Curtis (Fracture, Live Free or Die Hard), as Searle, the ship's psych officer who can't quite cure his own unhealthy fascination with staring into the sun. He's really cool, always really believable, I think. Because nearly every scene is on one ship or another, there are only eight other actors listed, including the woman who does the voice of the ship's computer, but they're all great. I suppose with so few roles to cast, you really take the time to get that right.

So this one gets three and a half idols. That little hiccup about halfway through keeps it from going any higher, but aside from that it'd probably be a four. It's very low-key, mostly, more about the people than the events, which is good because it could so easily have turned into just another special-effects extravaganza. And it's got some great opposites in it -- there's the huge empty void of space and the relatively cramped confines of most of the ship; the whole light-dark thing that Searle obsesses on; and the graphic realization that in space, you can freeze to death and be burnt to a cinder at almost exactly the same time. Yikes.

Image: 
Don't forget your sunglasses and the SPF 100,000 lotion!

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