In the vaguely distant future, the sun is dying and Earth is becoming uninhabitable. So it's up to a small band of astronauts to carry a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan literally all the way to the sun, in hopes that the resultant explosion will recharge the sun's batteries, as it were. All this is established early on with barely thirty seconds of voiceover, which is a nice change of pace from the usual dull exposition we get in sci fi films. For the rest of the movie, we're aboard the aptly-named Icarus II as its scruffy crew ponders the sacrifices they're making in order to save the planet. And what happened to Icarus I? Well, therein lies the film's real story.
Danny Boyle has taken elements of the greatest science fiction movies, from 2001 to Alien, and created a stylish, suspenseful thriller out of them... only to come up short in the third act. He and screenwriter Alex Garland decide to sidestep profundity in favor of – and if you're dying to see this movie, I suggest you stop reading this review right now – a lame "twist" in the third act which turns the final twenty or so minutes of Sunshine into a slasher movie. What a waste of a good idea, and of the great martial arts star Michelle Yeoh in a forgettable part.
Still, Boyle creates an authentic atmosphere, and Garland's script realistically explores the practical challenges of deep space. This is science fiction that doesn't ignore the science, and it would have been an excellent entry in the genre... if it weren't for that cliched, horror-inspired third act! What a shame. Still, Sunshine is bound to gain a cult following someday.