Life borrows so heavily from Alien that it’s faults are glaringly obvious when compared to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. Great performances – especially from Jake Gyllenhaal – aren’t enough to elevate a script devoid of spark and originality.
The film mainly failed at making me care about any of the humans in danger. A crew of astronauts on the International Space Station receiving soil samples from Mars. The samples contain a trace of life that progresses into a dangerous threat to the crew.
The setting and characters start off realistic and grounded, following NASA protocol etc. It’s therefore quite jarring to hear a science nerd turn action hero and yell out “fuck this” as they rush off to save someone.
Ryan Reynolds is immediately unlikable and out of place as he cracks jokes like Deadpool and acts like a cowboy. There’s not enough effort made to marry the conflicting styles so it comes off obnoxious and false.
The best characterization comes from the lead scientist – normally wheel-chair bound on Earth – enjoying the freedom of anti-gravity. His curiosity and bonding with the alien before it turned hostile could have been explored much further.
There are also silly scenes of the astronauts having video conversations with kids on earth, answering questions the way a Kindergarten teacher talks to kids when they know parents are watching. It’s unnecessary and cringe-worthy.
Another astronaut has a quick subplot regarding his newborn child on Earth. The rest of the crew lounge while this is happening, reading stories as Reynolds cracks jokes. Ridley Scott’s Alien succeeded at showing regular people being regular in space because they were essentially blue-collar truckers. Space travel was the norm and they were just doing a job. The International Space Station in Life is not presented as a regular job yet it tries to have its characters feel like a good ol’ gang of buds.
The action ramps up quickly, and although the alien’s design appears quite natural and believable, it’s a million light-years from Giger’s Xenophobe. There’s never a significant amount of terror generated, even though a crew of scientists are stuck in a confined space with a powerful creature intent on killing.
Technically the film looks fantastic. The space and station effects are well done and the alien itself avoids looking too computer-generated. For some reason, the cinematography picks up considerably near the end, showing off wonderful composition of a few characters. Perhaps that was a post-production choice to show an evolution, but it was lost on me. I just liked how it looked.
Life isn’t terrible. It’s a serviceable movie but the wasted potential and mindless cribbing of a classic was offensively bland. I couldn’t find a reason to care about anything that happened, and the action wasn’t spectacular enough to compensate. If you’re looking for an Alien clone, Scott’s next film will release May 19th of this year. Based on those trailers however, there aren’t too many new ideas in his movie either.