For about 83 minutes, Danny Boyle's Sunshine is an above average sci-fi film with a great hook - a potential suicide mission to reignite the dying sun - and, if not entirely realistic (the sun's far too powerful to approach even with heat shields), it's at least credible enough to dispel any worries that this is going to turn out to be Solar Crisis 2. Thanks to some excellent character development (with one underwritten exception in Troy Garity's case), the first two thirds work because the focus is kept firmly on the human element, and it's human error that is the root cause of the increasing obstacles that threaten the mission. When things go wrong at first, it's a series of logical consequences of a mathematical error, and the film follows these through with a mechanical logic, constantly proving adept at offering hope only to remove it.
Unfortunately it misses a few opportunities by keeping too cool a head at times: rather than tempers rising along with the temperature and rational decision making being affected by the purely physical affects of an increasingly hostile environment providing the drama, Boyle and writer Alex Garland show the same confusion over how to end this picture as they famously did with 28 Days Later and decide to introduce an external threat which takes the phrase deus ex machina to new lows. The nature of the threat didn't work for George Pal in the 1950s and works even worse here.
Things start to get dodgy around an airlock sequence where it's revealed that tinfoil and holding your breath might just work in a minus 272 degree vacuum. And, in retrospect, it seems unbelievable that the life of the only crew member who knows how to program their payload would be risked needlessly out of a fit of pique from one character earlier in the film (or indeed that on such a crucial mission there would be only one crew member to know how to do it). But it's with the introduction of an anomaly on the oxygen supply that the film's IQ drops to single figures as it makes a sudden severe shift of genre and into the realms of absurdity. Characters don't communicate and put themselves needlessly at risk, Chris Evans suddenly develops such an immunity to low temperatures you're wondering if you're watching outtakes from Fantastic Four and, what's even worse is that having created two more than efficient female characters in Michelle Yeoh and Rose Byrne, it gives them absolutely nothing to do in the attempts to salvage the mission, deciding instead to reduce them to dispensable victims: that's just so 70s, Danny. Just to put the tin lid on it, even within it's own suddenly limited ambitions, these sequences are extremely poorly executed with a notable lack of tension and an almost comical belief that blurring the screen or smearing the lens with Vaseline is inherently frightening. And it gets confusing as hell. I don't think I've seen a film so completely shoot itself in the foot in the home stretch since Tequila Sunrise.
Within this section there are still some good moments, but if only they'd removed the external element and reshot and reedited the ending and put their faith in the inherent drama of the premise. Like throwing a lion at a character attempting to walk a tightrope over a pit of alligators while under heavy machine-gun fire to up the risk factor (Armageddon not enough for you, boys?), it simply reduced the audience to laughter. A shame, because it coulda been a contender (still could if they cut out one character, do a quick reshoot and re-edit for the States), but despite some good visuals and strong performances (particularly Hiroyuki Sanada and Cliff Curtis in what could have been throwaway parts) I just left the theatre thinking how much more technically accomplished the ending of Event Horizon was, and that's never a good thing.
And it started out so well...