In 28 Days Later, writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle teamed to detail the fall of humanity on planet Earth; five years later, they've come together once again to follow the fight for it in outer space. The result is a high-concept psychological sci-fi thriller that effectively builds tension in a variety of ways, despite falling back on the occasional cliché and nearly careening out of control during its heliocentric climax. As with most ambitious genre efforts, there are flaws to be found for those seeking to deconstruct rather than simply be taken in by the film, yet while many filmmakers seem eager to simply exploit advancements in special effects by cramming the frame with as many fantastic extraterrestrials and cool space explosions as possible, Garland and Boyle seem intent on telling a story first and foremost, and actually using special effects to advance that story. Once upon a time, before Aliens inspired every sci-fi filmmaker to focus on action over plot, sci-fi was a genre driven by ideas. Sunshine harkens back to that era of sci-fi filmmaking. Of course, even then, not every concept or idea set forth was always entirely original, and the same can be said for Sunshine. Fans of Paul W.S. Anderson's Event Horizon in particular may cry foul over the apparent recycling of some plot points and ideas from that flawed but commendable effort (indeed Sunshine could be seen as the anti-Event Horizon), but where Garland and Boyle's artistry as filmmakers comes into play is how they fold those concepts into their own unique creation -- much the same way that they drew from George A. Romero's universe to create 28 Days Later.
Visually, Sunshine is quite a sight to behold, thanks to cinematographer Alwin Küchler -- who has previously worked with director Lynne Ramsay on The Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, among others. Though generally confined to terra firma for his cinematic excursions, Küchler proves exceptionally adept at sci-fi imagery due in large part to his remarkable use of light. In a story which revolves around the sun, the use of light is paramount, and the manner in which Küchler distorts and bends it in the frame is truly remarkable. Küchler's unique methods of visualizing each act of the film serve extremely well to both emphasize the psychological distress of the characters and skillfully maintain the mystery of one key player. The cast -- an impressive mix of international talents -- all stay true to form throughout despite the fact that they are given little background or true character traits. While it would have been nice to see the characters played by Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Rose Byrne (of 28 Weeks Later) get a bit more depth, this is a story-driven tale and, in the end, the players involved are merely elements of a larger beast -- their backgrounds on Earth rendered largely inessential given that viewers will eventually become savvy to their true natures as the situation in space grows increasingly dire. As with his part in 28 Days Later, Cillian Murphy makes an impressive lead protagonist, his clashes with Chris Evans' temperamental space traveler providing some of Sunshine's most memorable -- and at times humorous -- moments.