The sun is dying in Sunshine, but the familiarity of Trainspotting director Danny Boyle's latest makes one think an equally dire death is the sci-fi genre's aptitude for invention. A gorgeously crafted intergalactic saga sorely lacking in originality or profundity, Boyle's film marries 2001 aesthetics with an Alien narrative to create a rather straightforward – and superficially entertaining – adventure devoid of much meaning. Talk of God, humanity and morality abound but Alex Garland's screenplay only lightly grazes such heady philosophical issues, instead investing most of its time and energy on decently drawn characters, an authentic sense of setting, reasonably taut set pieces, and custom-built showcases for dazzling CG sunscapes, twinkling light flares, and immense cascades of roiling fire hungry to fill the void of space. On a purely visceral level, Sunshine is never less than engaging, and frequently gripping. Yet the general emptiness of its head is frustrating given its pretensions of high-minded deepness, and the commonplaceness of its plot is ultimately dispiriting for a movie seemingly so in awe of the beguiling, near-incomprehensible mysteriousness of the vast universe.
Boyle's film charts the mission of those aboard Icarus II, who have been charged with traveling to the perishing sun and reigniting it with a nuclear bomb (dubbed the "Payload") in a last ditch effort to save Earth from the grip of a solar winter. Icarus II is a marvelously envisioned vessel, its interiors full of high-tech doodad-ery made raggedy after 16 months of use by its human inhabitants, and its exterior marked by a giant, circular solar-paneled shield that protects the craft from the sun's lethal rays. Less impressive is the standard-issue motley crew, comprised of a stoically heroic captain (Hiroyuki Sanada), a sensitive girl (Rose Byrne), an arrogant coward (Troy Garity), a nondescript nobody (Michelle Yeoh), an out-there shrink (Cliff Curtis), a cold pragmatist (Chris Evans), and a sympathetic hero (Cillian Murphy). Save for Evans, who finds himself stuck with the most thanklessly schematic of roles, the cast admirably infuses their sketchily conceived astronauts with a dollop of relatable personality. Their hopes, dreams, and quasi-religious musings, however, are mere specks on the cosmic windshield of Sunshine, whose primary focus always remains on its computer-generated intergalactic wonders.