God knows I was looking forward to Sunshine. I'm not really sure why, because pretty much every film by Danny Boyle that I've seen (and, thanks to a handy tv showing of Shallow Grave on Thursday night, I've now seen all his feature films), with the exception of 2005's charming Millions, I've had major issues with. But I think the intriguing premise (the sun is dying!) and the eclectic, only-slightly-famous cast were just too big a pull for me. And the trailer, with that horrifying shot of Michelle Yeoh slamming into the camera, made the film seem especially daring and unusual.
But I guess I shouldn't get my hopes up too high. Sunshine is good, yes, fine, and in fact for the first half I was gripped, impressed, wowed. The film never stepped out Alien-territory, but that's a fine film to be emulating and the aforementioned attractive elements kept it separate enough. And the film is visually stunning, with the obvious rich palette of colours and sleek, shining photography of the sleek, shining sets and spaceship. Sunshine, however, is one of those rare films where I can pin-point exactly where it became weaker- and I won't spoil it, but there is a specific scene, even a specific line of dialogue, when I just sighed and cursed screenwriter Alex Garland under my breath. Sunshine didn't need this plot development, it could have been so much better without it, and it seems like such a rip-off that it just makes me roll my eyes. From then on, Sunshine struggles to get back to its former quality, and almost succeeds, until the overwrought and silly ending sees it slide back down again.
But let us focus on the positives. Sunshine's cast is small, sure, but meaty, delicious, from Hiroyuki Sanada's stoic captain to Cillian Murphy's slightly eerie (but when is he not?) physicist. Standouts, however, prove to be Rose Byrne as the emotional pilot Cassie, who in a few brief scenes with Murphy's Capa hints at a developed connection (and lit up the screen with her smile), and the Human Torch himself, Chris Evans, who melds movie-star charisma with surprising acting chops, selling some weak scenes with superb delivery and providing the film's most memorable and fiery character. Sunshine's more Armageddon-ish impulses mean that there's not much room for character, especially for those who are pecked off first, but even the less-featured actors provide some felicities, and Garland is impressive in his building of their strained, distant interactions: these are people who have spent over a year and a half together, and yet don't really know each other at all.
Sunshine is eminently watchable and often sweatily gripping, and is blessed by a dynamite cast and a dazzling visual sense (remarkable given the relatively small budget of £10mil/$50mil), but it gives in to familiar impulses and ultimately emerges as a disappointment. Nevertheless, it's markedly more intelligent than the majority of movies released to a wide market, and hopefully the uneasy balance on the line between the avant-garde and the popular will pull in both sides and give each a taste of the others' medicine. Grade: B-