Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
As science-fiction fans are still hankering over the unanswered questions in Arrival while waiting with a sense of cautious optimism for Alien: Covenant, something they didn't quite have when anticipatingPrometheus, they might find some momentary solace in Daniel Espinosa's Life. A stopgap, claustrophobic space odyssey, and little else, the film closely resembles Alien as much as any ripoff in the last twenty years, and while a bit of familiarity is forgivable, Life challenges how much we're willing to forgive when we pay for the same movie twice, just this time without the magic.
The film takes place entirely on the International Space Station (ISS), where a six-person crew is returning home to Earth after an expedition on Mars uncovered the first signs of extraterrestrial life. On their way back, the crew toys with a unique soil-sample: a transparent, jellyfish-like creature that eventually takes the form similar to a starfish and then a squid. When one member of the crew, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), is observing it by using gloves, as it's encased in a small glass window inside a petri-dish, the small lifeform winds up grabbing a hold of Hugh's hand, breaking it and cutting off circulation with an unrelenting iron-grip.
The species winds up escaping in an already claustrophobic, labyrinth-like maze of a spaceship made up largely of narrow tunnels. The ship is governed by Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who believes in using more conservative methods to control and capture the creature. In contrast, Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) recognize the danger present and want to make an attempt to seal the species off and contain it in its own room before they kill it. Then there's Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), tasked with trying to lock Calvin in a specific area, which proves to be tougher and more difficult than anyone initially thought. No matter what they try and do, the creature outsmarts them, growing longer, more distended tentacles and moving at faster speeds.
Meanwhile, Kat Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) gets debatably the worst fate of anyone only rivaled by another individual on-board I won't say. Upon going outside to try and fix the fallen antenna on the spacecraft, she's attacked by Calvin, who feeds off the coolant in her spacesuit. Within moments, she's drowned in her space helmet, floating without direction amidst the stars with Calvin finding a way back inside to feast on the others soon after.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds
24 March 2017
Steve's Grade: C-
The moments leading up to or when Calvin attacks the members of the ISS are effective and terrifying largely because you get the feeling of how helpless these individuals are. They are ill-equipped not only in trying to contain the creature but also when it comes to curbing its persistent growth and uncommon strength over all of them at once. This sort of helplessness needed to make for a more compelling film.
The problem with Life is that when it's not suspenseful, it's ponderous, with either too much space-babble or too little interest occurring in between more tumultuous moments. The film seems to forget that on a six-person spacecraft, there's a lot of potential for development and characterization. Instead of taking time to build these relationships, Deadpoolscreenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick rush into the events, coming back around for third act character development that's unfairly lopsided, and, at that point, unworkable as is.
Life is also a shameless clone of Ridley Scott's Alien, and while most science-fiction films of present day owe something to Scott's terrific pioneer, few have been this blatant in how willing they are to look like the exact same movie. What Life lacks, however, is the grimy horror aesthetic of that film and the charisma of Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt. Despite proven talents like Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, who is unfairly regulated to being the guy who gets told "no" or "that won't work" more often than not by Ferguson's Dr. North, Reese and Wernick do not give them enough to work with and unfortunately sideline them to being faces amongst a faceless movie.
For some people, Life will be enough of what they're looking for when it comes to space entertainment. However, before going on to commend the film for being mostly entertaining, or relatively good, think about the way Gravity, Interstellar, and Arrival went on to raise the stakes of the genre. With that, ask yourself if there is a place for middle-of-the-road science-fiction - and I believe there is, mind you - does it really include a film as lacking in an identity asLife, a film that wouldn't exist without the precedent of Ridley Scott's franchise? The film is derivative to the point that, if this were a college class, Life would be penalized greatly for not citing its sources, notwithstanding its disregard for MLA or APA formatting.