There's a problem with our sun. This can only be remedied by the people of Earth, who have cooperated in a space mission that will see a bomb the size of Manhattan fired into the star to restart it and return solar power to full strength. The ship carrying this bomb is named the Icarus, after a previous attempt to carry out the mission which had failed and as the crew grow closer to their destination they feel the isolation of their situation, especially as their contact with Earth has now been lost due to the conditions outside the craft. But as time runs out, the most dangerous trial awaits...
You may have a sense of deja-vu about Sunshine, adapted from Alex Garland's script by director Danny Boyle, essentially from the same team that brought the world the hit 28 Days Later... Wisely, the filmmakers make no secret of the influences on their tale, and indeed the resonances of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Solaris and the rest of the jeopardised space mission genre make Sunshine look as if it belongs in their esteemed company. Yet the film that it most resembles for quite a while is 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which is not quite so flattering.
Nevertheless the film was embraced by some viewers who awarded it cult status, and that might well be down to the excellent visual quality and the pretentiousness that encroaches on, and finally takes over, the story. The international cast represent the international community here, with Cillian Murphy's Robert Capa emerging as the lead as the others meet various misfortunes. At first, he is just another face in the crew of scientists and astronauts, and they carry out earnest conversations that occasionally spill over into bona fide arguments.
If they can't work together, then we're doomed, another method of increasing the tension. However, they may be headed towards dazzling light, but the plotting is murky and you have to listen hard through jargon to catch precisely what is going on and why, say, the Captain (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Capa have to venture out of the ship to fix bits that have become damaged. Then there's the business of the first Icarus (judging by the mission title they weren't exactly hoping for the best) which naturally this crew have to encounter as it drifts through its orbit.
Once they realise there's a serious error with their ship, the possibility of using the first one as a substitute opens up. They don't know that they must now face the reason that initial mission failed as there is something waiting for them on the dead ship, and one by one they get bumped off through both accident and design. On the subject of design, that's really Sunshine's biggest plus, as despite Boyle's annoying tendency to make the picture go all blurry during the exciting bits the enterprise looks great, with fine special effects. Where it's not so successful is in its straining towards cosmic significance, as if restarting the sun wasn't a big enough effort in the first place. Is Capa staring into the face of God by the end? Or simply an unknowable eternity? And more pertinently, why does this turn into a cheesy "running away from the monster" flick in the last third? Music by John Murphy and Underworld.
British director, from TV, who started his movie career with two big homegrown hits: Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. His Hollywood efforts suggested he's better when based in the U.K., as both 2005's kids comedy Millions and the hit zombie shocker 28 Days Later were big improvements on his two previous features, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach.
Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, then scripted Boyle's ambitious sci-fi epic Sunshine. Boyle next enjoyed worldwide and Oscar success with Slumdog Millionaire, the biggest hit of his career, which he followed with true life survival drama 127 Hours and tricksy thriller Trance, in between staging the 2012 London Olympics to great acclaim. Business biopic Steve Jobs was a flop, however.