It's the year 2057, and our sun is dying. An eight-member crew has been sent out on the spaceship Icarus II, which is carrying a nuclear device that will be dropped into the star. The chain reaction it causes will hopefully reignite the solar orb, and save the Earth.
As with just about every space film since Alien, Icarus II's crew is the usual mélange of nations and ethnicities--American, European, Chinese, Japanese--and the pitfalls they encounter have already been seen in a slew of sci-fi epics. There's the crew member who screws up a key course correction, forcing an outside-the-spaceship repair mission that leads to the death of one of the spacemen. There's the unforeseen fire that destroys the oxygen-producing plants which are a key to the mission's ability to return safely home. Last but not least, there's the discovery of the original Icarus, which had been sent out on a similar mission seven years previously, and had never been heard from again.
It's at this point that director Danny Boyle's Sunshine, which features spectacular photography and FX work, and is dancing on the verge of a truly cosmic statement, runs completely off the rails. The last 20 minutes or so are a combination of sci-fi horror, plot holes you could drive an 18-wheeler through, and an obvious ending any halfway intelligent viewer can see coming from 58 million miles away (the distance Icarus II is from Earth).
It's a real tragedy, since the first hour or so of Sunshine, while nothing really new in the space-opera department, is absorbing and really mind-blowing on a visual level. The cast is well-chosen, with Cliff Curtis as the resident physician, and Cillian Murphy, cast as the ship's physicist, real standouts. But Boyle, who has been thisclose to making a truly great film since he broke out internationally with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, seems to founder when it comes to tight, coherent screenplays. He's paired for the third time here with Alex Garland, and that might be the problem. Although Garland seems to have clever ideas, he's not really good at closure. 28 Days Later, for example, which Garland wrote for Boyle, was two-thirds of an amazing zombie movie that fell apart at the end. Sunshine is pretty much the same--what starts out as a fairly worthy attempt to make a 2001 or Solaris for the new millennium winds up being just another overblown genre film. It's not even as satisfying as Event Horizon. And that's a pity.