Of all the "Doomsday Series" entries so far, "Exploding Sun" ends up being the strangest thanks to its unusual tone. The filmmakers seem want to do something different with this one, injecting a few twists and turns, but "Sun" jerks back and forth between odd twists and even older cliches, and the payoffs to the show's ambition go against the goofy entertainment vibe these kinds of productions go for. "Sun" may be slightly more tense than its predecessors, but it's bizarrely downbeat in addition to all the usual ham-and-cheese problems, which only seems likely to turn off the intended audience.
For starters, the primary character conflict makes both protagonists look bad. A large part of the film involves the presence of hero NASA astronaut Don Wincroft (David James Elliott), who also happens to be Craig's former best friend, and new husband to Craig's ex-wife Cheryl (Natalie Brown). When Don shows up at the launch, it sets off lingering tension between the two men that continues through the whole movie. Although Don is a bit irritating himself, constantly interrupting critical moments with questions for Craig, Craig gives him more than a normal cold shoulder, often ignoring reasonable suggestions and ideas in order to maintain his grudge. Their bitter rivalry leads up to one of the movie's first stunning moments, a surprisingly dark turn of events near the end of the first chapter. Stupid characters are a poison to entertaining dramatics, and it's hard to blame science for the ways their bitterness toward one another puts people's lives in danger.
Really, between Bakus and Wincroft (as well as Cheryl, who is sent in to get the two men to cooperate with each other), as well as the President and his daughter watching in terror, there's not much need for further characters, but "Exploding Sun" pads out its roster with some really strange threads. The strangest is Ormond's, trying to save 500 Afghan refugees on limited supplies. For the first hour, it's not even clear what her thread's even doing in the movie, but after storms start pummeling the planet, her thread takes an even crazier turn. With her food and shelter destroyed and many of the refugees dead, she turns to a local warlord for safety, hoping to return his runaway daughter in exchange for aid. The ultimatum he presents her with in return is jaw-dropping, and the outcome is even crazier. In principle, it's an interesting moral conundrum, but there's no way it belongs in "Exploding Sun."
Beyond these crazy moments, "Exploding Sun" almost gleefully dives into its cliches, including a member of the President's cabinet (Richard Jutras) desperate to have him labeled as emotionally compromised, the civilian passenger's wife (Cristina Rosato) and kid (Harley Chamandy) fighting through their terror to help the small town where they live, and the estranged son of the humanitarian (Robert Crooks), learning to do some humanitarianism of his own. On one hand, this is a movie where the climactic gambit involves flying a ship backwards when the heat shield doesn't go up, a moment of silliness that exists at a complete 180-degree angle from the dramatics that precede it. "Exploding Sun" is certainly memorable, but probably not for the right reasons.
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