When the trailers for Life came out, I knew we had another creature feature on our hands. It’s set in space and has A-list talent, in front of and behind the screen, attached to it; so that gives it a decided advantage over older, cheaper creature movies. Whether this film would be memorable and talked about for years to come is another story. A film set in space offers up great stories of isolation and clever problem solving. Apollo 13 is one example of this premise. All it had was a damaged lunar module and Tom Hanks at the helm. The drama and tension took off from there. Well what if we took a modern space station and placed it in a similar scenario, minus Tom Hanks, but added the threat of an extraterrestrial monster? You might call that overkill, but actually it makes for a pretty fun and heart-pounding adventure.
In Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa, a crew of scientists have just recovered a damaged satellite containing soil samples from the surface of Mars. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is anxious to examine what could possibly be dormant microbes embedded within the grains of dirt. It would prove to the world the existence of life beyond our world. Other members of the crew include David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory (Ryan Reynolds), Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya). When a microbial organism begins to emerge from its slumber and increase in size and complexity, the crew and the world are simultaneously overjoyed. As the organism continues to develop in its new surroundings, it grows smarter and becomes aware of its hosts. An unfortunate incident causes the organism to become aggressive. Trapped aboard the International Space Station, with a creature that is somehow disabling their life support systems, the crew must find a way to destroy this mysteriously intelligent entity before it manages to reach Earth.
The film starts out with a very compelling and thoughtful setting. You learn about the many job duties a space crew is required to understand. The characters have great camaraderie and you develop a connection with most of them. Ryan Reynolds character Rory is definitely the comedic contribution to this movie, courtesy of Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda as a person with strength and an adherence to safety protocols. Jake Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan is the most dedicated of the bunch and perhaps finds the confines of the ISS to be his real home. Pretty much all the crew members have something about them that makes them interesting.
The special effects are top notch. I was impressed by how well the zero gravity scenes turned out. Some of the smaller moments seemed devoid of CGI, which is a major accomplishment considering those are the times you really notice it. The interior shots of the ship are similar to other modern sci-fi films, but the use of lab instruments is done in a way that gives it a realistic tone. You felt you were watching an actual space mission. The exterior shots of the ship and the Earth are breathtaking and reminded me of the first time I saw Gravity. In terms of visual imagery, you could compare these two very closely in that regard.
As I said originally, this is a creature feature and the bulk of this movie puts you in that mindset. I certainly would have preferred a more science-centric story, but a space monster is not bad either and they do utilize a lot of science to combat it. The monster is very terrifying for the most part, but as it grows larger and more animated, it starts to lose that scary appeal. The heavy dependence on CGI for its movements and appearance did not work for me and it felt like the crew was chasing a Looney Tunes character. It resembles something close to a computer generated stingray that isn’t rendered properly. It does create chaos and carnage; so the looming threat of death is still there of course.
The latter half of this movie is hit and miss. The tension builds nicely, but then it slows down abruptly, leaving the focus of the film uneven and without a new momentum to give the audience. The small character development the movie gives the crew members is barely used at all and isn’t applied to the story in a meaningful way. Also the ending of the movie is so predictable, you wonder, with how clever these writers are, why they couldn’t come up with something more exciting.
Life is a good space adventure, but not a great one. It starts off with strong concepts, but settles for a mediocre premise. I’m not saying the monster couldn’t be the primary focus. The movie just doesn’t give it a story worth the setup. Ryan Reynolds is playing Deadpool in space and that’s not a bad thing. Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson do a great job with their characters and give them some weight. The more I ruminate on the movie as a whole, the more I’m reminded of 90’s monster movies and how much fun they were. You don’t necessarily watch them every year, but they go good with popcorn and make you slow down your channel surfing for a moment or two when they show up. So don’t expect your brain to get a workout. Enjoy the thrills and also the claustrophobia.
[Movie Title]: [yasr_overall_rating size=”large”]
Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada
Runtime: 1 Hour, 43 Minutes