Review: 'Sunshine' disappointing solar thriller

Having explored the darkest corners of the soul in “28 Days Later,” and the chilly, drugged-up desolation of Glasgow in “Trainspotting,” Danny Boyle could use a little light in his life.

There’s plenty to be found in “Sunshine,” his tale of space-traveling saviors on a mission to resuscitate the failing heart of the solar system, but perhaps Boyle caught a few too many rays. The closer he gets to the sun, the more he loses his nerve, reducing a tense, unpredictable thriller to a needlessly bloody, pseudo-spiritual mess.

Aesthetically, the film is at times a majestic spectacle. Bathed in flashes of searing, resplendent light, “Sunshine” offers a visual feast in the absence of substance, though screenwriter Alex Garland keeps the plot lean and the atmosphere taut until he and Boyle run out of ideas.

The Earth, we learn, is trapped in a permanent winter that threatens to extinguish mankind unless a team of astronauts, led by a brilliantly blue-eyed physicist (Cillian Murphy), can detonate a nuclear device near the sun’s gaseous (and suddenly lukewarm) core.

It’s a premise preposterous enough to warrant comparison with the likes of “Deep Impact,” “Armageddon” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” but Boyle keeps the story more or less grounded until switching gears and unleashing an unconquerable bogeyman, complete with a God complex, on his unsuspecting cast.

By the time the crew of Icarus II discovers, in a depressingly familiar twist, that a demented killer has boarded their ship, “Sunshine” has already collapsed into a mess of clichés borrowed not from

sci-fi standard-bearers like “2001” or even “Alien," but from lackluster retreads like “Event Horizon” and “Deep Star Six.”

It’s a stunning disappointment, really — Boyle has always put his own twist on even the most well-worn material. Not here. “Sunshine” is a copout, a rare misstep for a director who, just this once, settles for shortcuts rather than plumbing the depths of his own vivid imagination.

Sunshine *½

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh

Written by Alex Garland

Directed by Danny Boyle

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 47 minutes

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