Life tells the story of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences and the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected.
In an attempt to not be completely negative about my thoughts on Life, I will say this film starts off beautifully. The interior set design of the space station ISIS is magnificent. Through director Daniel Espinosa’s 8 minute tracking shot, we get a great look of inside the space station and the crew manning it, uninterrupted. Later on in the film, Espinosa takes advantage of the interior to give the once functioning ISIS station a chilling and creepy vibe. His camera work throughout the film is solid, especially when giving the audience a first point of view of the alien on the hunt (inspiration taken from Sam Raimi). The VFX of the alien creature is impressive, especially when it’s attacking the astronauts. The cinematography in Life is also great, from the wide shots of Earth and space, all the way down to New York in a Times Square filled with people. There’s definitely some good things about this movie on a technical level.
Life boasts a stellar cast in Gyllenhaal, Reynolds, and Ferguson, with every one of them giving a fine performance. They all have good chemistry together and seem to be fully committed to their roles. It’s once these characters begin experimenting on the alien, which is given the name Calvin, where the film begins to disappoint. You eventually realize that Calvin is near indestructible. If there is a weakness to the alien, it either continues finding a way to avoid it, or the astronauts don’t take advantage of it effectively. Simply put, these astronauts and scientists are outmatched and outsmarted by Calvin. Yes, several attempts are made to combat or get rid of the alien, but through plot convenience, they fail and begin to do stupid things that only make you ask “why would you do that?”
It’s frustrating to watch because of how strong these actors are, yet the writing for their characters don’t do them justice. Reynolds was a big draw for me going into this film, and his character, Roy is killed off a half-hour in. Roy puts up a fight against the alien, by using fire. He quickly realizes he can’t win, yet continues fighting, even after witnessing what it’s capable of doing. Although Reynolds gives a terrific performance as his character slowly dies, I couldn’t help but think how avoidable it was. On a side note, what’s worse about his death is the TV spots for the movie actually spoil it.
The problem is most of these characters are written so thinly, which combined with the indestructible alien, overall made things somewhat uninteresting. The one character I cared about was Sho Kendo (played by Hiroyuki Sanada from The Wolverine), who early in the film witnesses the birth of his first child (via. video transmission). He has purpose, and something to fight for. Everyone else, not so much. Ferguson’s character Dr. Miranda is unlikable, so much that she had that (unsurprising) ending coming to her.
The story for Life had these moments that make you think about the dangers of our world constantly searching for other forms of life in the universe. There’s some back and forth dialogue about how scientists are quick to judge whether extra-terrestrial life is friendly or dangerous, but the film doesn’t expand on that conversation. I personally would’ve liked a more thought-provoking sci-fi thriller given how grounded the film was, and the strength of the cast. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick did a fantastic job with Deadpool, but the story and characters in Life fall short of expectations. Maybe the execution of the story has more to do with Espinosa, but most of the cast is wasted as far as character depth given. Fortunately, their performances are just good enough to help compensate. Overall, I was quite disappointed given all the talent Life had going for it, both behind and in front of the camera. To me, the film ended up just being a decent sci-fi/thriller.
Life gets a 5.5 out of 10