Lights, camera, didactic action

Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ flashes briefly and fades quickly

Michael Garberich

And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw that the light was good.

As ambitious as that might be, and as admirable as such ambition might seem, it is also one of the most difficult lineages to work within. And Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” a megalomania-blown, messianic sci-fi Animal Crossing proves no one, Boyle included, can successfully blend “2001: A Space Odyssey” with “The Passion of the Christ.”

“Sunshine”

DIRECTED BY: Danny Boyle
STARRING: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans
RATED: R
PLAYING AT: Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis
(612) 825-6006,
www.landmarktheatres.com

With “Sunshine,” we see the 51-year-old director in the middle of an identity crisis of the grandest proportions. Somewhere during his astronomical cult-success, a pedigree including “Trainspotting” and “28 Days Later,” Boyle appears to have hurled the blight of increasingly greater numbers of bodies upon his shoulders, and proceeded down a Christ-like path to the land of milk and honey.

He first sought to salve some of the world’s ails, starting with water in Africa and two young British lads in “Millions.” And with that behind him, he has now fixed his eyes on the salvation of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

“Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction … Welcome to Icarus II.” Thus speaks Robert Capa, played by Cillian Murphy, the former zombie slayer of Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” whose cheekbones sharpen the whetstone cutlers use to sharpen their blades. He and an unlikely group of international teen idols-cum-scientistastronauts, among them Chris Evans (“Fantastic Four”) and Rose Byrne (“28 Weeks Later”), must detonate a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan to “reignite” the sun, saving it, the Earth and the galaxy! For the record, Icarus II is the name of their ship, and yes, it is far from an accidental choice.

“Sunshine’s” plot doesn’t stray too far from the Y2K-era apocalyptic pics, most notably Ben and Bruce’s cosmic-comet, unintentionally comic voyage in “Armageddon.” But Boyle makes it perfectly clear that he is as much of a formalist as he is a storyteller, though “Sunshine” fails to illuminate either end of that spectrum.

Relating the sun and cinema, and their respective relationships to survival – on the one hand obvious (the sun dies, we die), on the other, rather blandly, and esoterically inferential (light dies, cinema dies) – is the kind of argument prepackaged for introduction to film studies 101, and as able of carrying a movie as the guy in the front of class with his hand up is able of carrying a conversation.

One of the earlier scenes is of the ship’s psychologist (Cliff Curtis) testing his threshold to view the sun at increasing intensity, 3.2 percent for a period of 30 seconds. As the screen brightens, he must shield his eyes with his hand, as does the audience with the sudden flood of light from the screen. How much cinema is too much? Please use no more than two blue book sheets in answering this question.

In another scene, a dizzying encounter with a demagogic supervillain who claims to have spoken with God, disorients at a crucial point when everything – bomb, spaceship, sun – is about to come crashing down (the movie crashed long ago) and God (Stand in for director? For Boyle?) is nowhere in sight or space to reposition us on solid ground.

“Sunshine” doesn’t lack beauty – the innumerable gems of white refracted light in the ship are beautiful, the giant smoldering orange and yellow sun is beautiful, and the actors are certainly beautiful – but beauty, Boyle, gets old.

Of course, if that was Boyle’s intention all along, to pack as much beauty into a single movie as he could, and tell us, in so doing, that too much of anything – too much light, too much beauty, too much movie – is damaging, then he might have made something truly deserving of the accolade “Brilliant.”

Unlikely.