The Good: Decent acting, Generally good direction
The Bad: Entirely formulaic, Light on genuine character development
The Basics: Life is exactly what the previews made it out to be: a remake of Alien with a slightly different setting and less sophistication.
One of the nice things for me about traveling is that, living in the middle of nowhere as I do, there are quite a few more opportunities to do things out and about than I have at home. To wit, the little movie theater in my town gets one movie, played once per night, for two to three weeks. So, we never got Life in town and when I resolved to drive the 75 miles to the nearest other theater, it was not playing there. But now, I'm in a big city . . . and one theater is still playing it! So, drawn in by a single movie trailer I saw two months ago and being vaguely interested in, I went today and saw Life.
Life is one of those films that is not bad, so much as it is entirely derivative. It's Alien (reviewed here!). Life is Alien without as extensive of a backstory, without the inherent character frictions, without the long-range. Life is not bad - though it took me about an hour of driving after I came out of the film to come to that conclusion - but it is pretty shocking that it was ever made. I mean, it's a walking intellectual property lawsuit waiting to happen. Specific details of Alien end up in Life in shockingly similar ways. In Alien, when the crew is down to four characters, one character is revealed to be working to keep the alien life form alive, for example, and Life mimics that exactly . . . albeit without an android or orders from The Company. No, whomever read Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script and thought Life was worth greenlighting either never saw Alien, didn't realize there was another Alien franchise film coming out in 2017, or was so desperate to capitalize on the hype for Alien: Covenant that they churned out this derivative work.
Opening with a sample collector from Mars getting knocked around by space debris and tiny asteroids, the International Space Station braces for the off-course vessel. Astronaut Rory Adams performs a daring (or reckless) spacewalk to use the station's arm to stop and retrieve the sample vessel. He is successful and the next day, scientist Hugh Derry begins studying the samples. In the martian dirt, he finds a single-celled life form and, against all odds, he manages to coax it back to life.
Soon, however, the life form is growing and when there is a minor accident in the lab, the life form - nicknamed "Cal" - goes back into hibernation. Using an electrical probe, Derry manages to reanimate the life form again. Threatened, however, by the device, the being grows again, snaps the probe and breaks out of its quarantine chamber. To rescue Derry, one of the other astronauts breaks quarantine and attempts to kill the alien. The casualties quickly begin to mount as Cal grows, adapts, and attacks the humans aboard the space station as they desperately try to prevent Cal from wiping them out . . . or leaving the station to attack Earth!
Life is one of those films that is less-good the more one analyzes it. Outside its derivative plot and characters who one might feel sorry for if only for the fact that their demise is so telegraphed, Life is actually all right. Daniel Espinosa directs the film competently enough - though the music is heavyhanded from the start and there are a couple of scenes where people talk over one another in a way that makes it feel like there are far more people on the station than there are. There's only one shot where there is no clear chain of events (a light stick is lit by a character, dropped and the next shot has them with another lit stick in their hand without any clear sense of where it came from), which is a pretty small flaw in the film.
The performers all do a decent job in Life. Jake Gyllenhaal dominates the cast as David Jordan, an astronaut who has been aboard the International Space Station longer than anyone else and, despite its adverse effect on his health, would rather remain there than return to Earth. Gyllenhaal plays Jordan with a competence that makes his character instantly credible, something that cannot truly be said of Ryan Reynolds's Rory Adams. Even Reynold's portrayal of Hal Jordan seemed more believable - that Jordan could actually be an able test pilot for the Air Force - whereas Adams seems more like a flaccid retread of other cocky, slightly sarcastic characters Reynold's played with more distinction.
Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya and Rebecca Ferguson each play their parts in ways that the viewer has moments they genuinely care about their characters. Ariyon Bakare gives a wonderful physical performance, making the process of a CG alien absolutely wrecking his character's hand seem entirely real and palpable. Dihovichnaya similarly proves an incredible physical actress in one of the film's most intense scenes. Ferguson is credible as a woman who gets very, very cold and Sanada interacts with the virtual elements flawlessly.
But the special effects and the performances aside, Life is far more dog than gem and today I find myself happier that I didn't drive seventy-five miles to see it, than the fact that I saw it at all.
For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Great Wall
Underworld: Blood Wars
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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