Movie Review: “Life” (R)
Before getting into this review, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. First, the new movie “Life” is not based on the popular cereal of the same name, nor was it inspired by the popular board game. It should also be noted that this isn’t a remake of the ’90s comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. Finally, much to the dismay of many a fanboy, “Life” is not a “Venom” origin story either. No, this new sci-fi flick from director Daniel Espinosa is based on an original concept, although with its contained setting and outer-space-set tale of survival, it does owe quite a bit to the likes of both “Alien” and “Gravity.” Despite its derivative nature, though, there’s something to be said for solid execution, and for the most part, “Life” is pretty well made.
In “Life,” a team of space explorers are in for the fight of their lives when an organism extracted from dirt samples on Mars wreaks havoc aboard the rather limited confines of their international space station. How do you outsmart an organism when you’re not even sure what it is you’re dealing with? This is the biggest question this terrified crew is forced to deal with.
“Life” certainly has a monster-movie aspect to it, but it’s really more of a survival story. And it isn’t just a tale of survival where the perplexed crew of this isolated space station is concerned, either. This is also a tale of survival from the perspective of the alien life form. In the early goings of the film, this particular life form appears harmless enough. But as it begins to grow at an exponential rate, a survival instinct kicks in, and this strange creature only has one thing on its intellectual mind: self preservation!
“Life” has a bit of a B-movie spirit, but that spirit is coupled with A-movie production values and a recognizable cast that includes the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds. True, a little of motormouth-mode Reynolds can go a long way, particularly in a darker-tinged movie like this. But thankfully, an act of heroism early on in the picture keeps Reynolds’ character in check. Translation: “Life” doesn’t turn into “Deadpool in Space.”
The look of this film, particularly the space station, is pretty stunning, taking more of a cue from the grimy and gritty nature of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” as opposed to the clean and slick stylings of something like Morten Tyldum’s “Passengers.” The alien design, which reminded me a bit of the creatures in “The Abyss” mixed with the aggressive mindset of the formless monster in John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” is pretty nifty, too. Impressively, Espinosa and crew have put “Life” together by way of a very modest budget, further proof that a movie doesn’t have to cost $200 million or more to look good.
It should also be noted that Team “Life” has a fun time coming up with inventive (and scary) ways for their star organism to attack. One of the most intense sequences in the picture finds this life form attaching itself to the exterior of a crew member’s spacesuit as they attempt to make their way from one part of the space station to the other while scaling it from the the outside. And bonus points for the ending of “Life,” which, while slightly predictable, effectively complements the overall tone of the movie.
“Life” isn’t perfect, and it isn’t as iconic as the movies it appears to be emulating, but it’s beautifully shot, well acted, and punctuated by an effective score. And at a fairly breezy one hour and 44 minutes long, it never outstays it’s welcome. In short, it’s worth a look.