Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Film Review by Nicholas Haberling
It is no secret that I enjoy a good science-fiction film with a dash of horror thrown in for good measure. Movies like Alien, Aliens, and Predator come to mind in addition to the lesser known film Pandorum. Within that context, the premise of Life caught my attention from the start. An unknown and violent organism from Mars with a crew of astronauts trapped alongside it within the confines of a space station. However, while the cast and story sound solid on paper, the execution of the film eaves something to be desired.
A crew of six astronauts played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya are on the International Space Station awaiting a capsule sent from Mars. The capsule in question may have the first evidence of life on Mars. After Ryan Reynolds uses some sort of contraption to catch the capsule, the crew’s scientist (Ariyon Bakare) finds a microscopic organism in the Martian soil sample. The world erupts in excitement at the discovery of life outside Earth and a little girl asks the crew to name this organism Calvin. Calvin experiences accelerated growth and begins to become more intelligent. About a month later the artificial environment created for him fails and over the course of a number of days he is unresponsive. The crew’s scientist attempts to ‘wake up’ Calvin, but Calvin had assumed the previous malfunction was an attempt on his life and now regards the humans as hostile and later… prey.
The film Life suffers from a number of failures including its characters and the main villain itself: Calvin. On the character side, despite a solid cast, there is zero character development and their inherit personalities can’t carry the film. The only noteworthy performance here is Ryan Reynolds and his now patent-worthy humor. His character was the only one who brought a true presence to all the scenes he was in. In hindsight I have to suspect the screenwriters wished they had one of the more interchangeable characters meet their demise in the first act instead.
Moving on to Calvin, a week later I still can’t decide how I feel about this creature. Returning to my apartment after seeing this film, admittedly I was a little on edge. But during the film itself there were moments where I viewed the monster, Calvin, as comical. At the start of his rampage Calvin is an intelligent, little to medium sized grey starfish, whose movement patterns seemed so unnatural to the point of hilarity. Then as Calvin grows he takes the form of a flying creature Godzilla might fight in the older Japanese films. On top of this, Calvin is borderline invincible. Arnold Schwarzenegger found out that the Predator can bleed and the Alien is afraid of fire, but Calvin puts both of them to shame. While I make fun of Calvin’s indestructibility, appearance, and movement, his ability to kill people is no laughing matter. By the end of the film you begin to think that being trapped on the International Space Station with a grizzly bear is preferable to Calvin.
I can only give Life a 6/10. What began as a promising and scary adventure ultimately didn’t pan out. While Ryan Reynolds gave life to the film (I know, clever joke), the rest of the cast couldn’t carry the emotional weight necessary to push Life to the next level after his demise. Furthermore a ‘hand wave’ incident occurred that completely took me out of the movie. For those who don’t know, a ‘hand wave’ is when a director decides to ignore the rules of their fictional universe in order to carry the plot of the film forward. Anyone who has already seen the film knows the incident I am talking about. In conclusion, while Life might be worth seeing as a matinee, it certainly wasn’t worth what I spent to see it at a Dolby Atmos surround sound showing.