“Life” Has the Thrills, Loses its Brains

Life

“Life” is directed by Daniel Espinosa and stars Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Reynolds.  The film is about the first discovery of life on Mars, and while that lifeform is being tested on the International Space Station, it begins to evolve faster than they had ever imagined, and eventually threatens the lives of all members aboard the ISS as it grows out of control.

This was a film that I was very excited for, as the premise promised a bit of an “Alien” vibe with some potentially smart themes about the dangers of extraterrestrial life, while also boasting a rather impressive cast, which includes two of the most charismatic actors working today with Gyllenhaal and Reynolds.

The Good

The cast is excellent in all aspects in this movie, with all six members of the ISS crew shining in their own scenes, all having terrific chemistry with one another.  While I don’t think anyone really stood out from the rest, I’d say that I enjoyed the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal the most of anyone in the movie, as he showed the greatest range from start to finish.

Rebecca Ferguson holds a lot of the weight of the film on her shoulders in some pivotal scenes, and I thought that she handled it very well, as did Ryan Reynolds in his typical charismatic funny guy role that he has been typecast in many times before.  Sure, he is exactly what I expected, but it’s what Reynolds does best, and that is no different here.  Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare are all great as well, as the back and forth of these six allows the film to never really lose its momentum, even in the less exciting scenes.

I loved the opening 15 to 20 minutes of this movie, as it wastes no time heating up, putting the audience into a situation that immediately brings the tension and suspense, and I think this was a terrific move by director Daniel Espinosa, as I found myself almost completely on board with the film for the entire 103-minute runtime.

There are a lot of great shots of deep space, as well as some really great camera work done to create tension, and the wonderful mix of tight spaces combined with the vast, open space was excellently handled by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

This film is at its best when it sticks to the more scientific aspects that made its premise so intriguing.  I loved seeing the various tests on the new lifeform, also known as Calvin, as well as the different opinions that each member of the crew had on how to handle everything that was going on.  The movie works wonders when it stays more realistic, and that is shown the best in the opening act of the film.

The Bad

Sadly, a little over halfway through the film, much of what was so great about the premise goes out the window, as Espinosa goes for a straight-up thriller instead of something more grounded in reality.  Once Calvin reaches a certain point in the movie, it becomes something that feels like purely science fiction, and that took me out of the movie a bit.  It is still an entertaining ride, but there’s just something less scary and less involving once the premise falls off the rails.

You can’t help but make the comparisons to Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece, “Alien”, as the two films just feel incredibly similar in style and in ideas, especially in the last half of the film.  That’s okay, except sometimes it feels more like copying rather than taking inspiration, and when you start to compare this to a true horror classic, there’s no way “Life” could even compare.

Conceptually, as Calvin begins to evolve further and further, I believe that it goes against some of the characteristics that were originally promised in the opening act.  Very small spoilers, but early on there are tests done that describe Calvin as a being with all muscle, which also means he is all brain.  This is a cool idea, but by the end, the design of Calvin makes much less sense considering that this was said early on.

The Iffy

I have gone back and forth on the ending of “Life” ever since I have left the theater, and I honestly cannot put it into either a good or bad category, so here we are.  I won’t spoil it, as it is an overall pretty well-done conclusion that has some cool ideas, but I also wasn’t very surprised by it, and I found myself disappointed with the way the concluding moments were edited.  Leaving the theater, I did not like the finale at all, but it has definitely grown on me since, moving me into this unsure “meh” area.

Conclusion

“Life” offers some great visuals, real nice work from its cast, and starts off with a wonderful mix of tension and smart themes.  While the intelligence is thrown out towards the last half, there are still a lot of things that work about this film as a straight-up thriller.  “Life” has moments that shine through as highlights, and overall it is constantly entertaining throughout its relatively short runtime.

Badge-7.5

Get tickets and showtimes for “Life” here

What did you think of “Life”?  Comment below with your thoughts.


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