A decent but forgettable thriller that adds nothing new to the Doomed Space Crew genre.
Are you a space scientist?
I’ll assume you’re not and proceed to ask you this: “Not being a space scientist, do you nevertheless have an opinion as to whether it would be a good idea to mess with a newly discovered life form from Mars that you’ve brought aboard your ship that’s growing at an unbelievable pace and, as one of your very smart crew members observes, is ‘all muscle, all brain, all eye?’” What’s that? You would NOT think that poking, prodding and otherwise annoying such a creature would be a good idea? OK. Then we’re on the same page.
One of the biggest flaws in Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s (Safe House) Life, which follows what happens to the crew of the International Space Station after they discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial beings, is that lead biologist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) seems to immediately throw all common sense out of the window and get emotionally attached to the thing they’ve brought on board, despite really REALLY glaring warning signs that the alien is highly intelligent. At least other people, such as Ryan Reynold’s wisecracking space mechanic Rory, attempt to talk some sense into Hugh. Olga Dihovichnaya’s Russian cosmonaut Katerina is another who stays level-headed when others lose it.
Yet the creature—annoyingly named “Calvin” by kids who won a contest back on Earth—still escapes and starts wreaking havoc aboard the ship. We’re introduced to the space station in an admittedly cool long shot at the start of the film, so the audience knows that it’s a maze of tunnels where there are countless places for an up-to-no-good beastie to hide. But the cat-and-mouse game between the crew and Calvin (seriously, it seems so wrong to call this murderous squid-looking thing CALVIN?!?!) eventually grows tiresome, and I lost track of how many times people were zooming weightlessly down halls and around corridors, trying to stay one step ahead of the creature and then slamming and locking portal doors on it just in time. The film plays like an Alien knockoff, where unfortunately its many heart-pounding and genuinely gory sequences are diminished by goofy moments that don’t work, such as Jake Gyllenhaal (playing loner space vet and medic Dr. David Jordan) solemnly reading parts of Goodnight Moon.
What’s strongest about Life is its realistic and visually impressive depiction of space, the ship, and Calvin—there are no CGI complaints from me this time. I also enjoyed everyone’s performances except for Gyllenhaal’s—he just came off like a weird creeper. The standout for me was Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North, who—despite being caring and stoic—is keeping a few secrets about the ship’s emergency protocols.
The Bottom-Line? If you usually enjoy thrillers set in space, you may want to catch Life on the big screen, because there is certainly something to be said for its visuals—and for experiencing its many jump-out-of-your-seat moments with others. Otherwise it’s worth renting for its cast, who make the most of what they’re given to work with, and the truly menacing (even if poorly named) Calvin.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (David Jordan), Ryan Reynolds (Rory Adams), Rebecca Ferguson (Miranda North), Olga Dihovichnaya (Katerina Golovkina), Ariyon Bakare (Hugh Derry), Hiroyuki Sanada (Sho Murakami)
Credits: Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
Erika Olson © March 24, 2017