Life

 photo life_ver3_zpseahijifv.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgLife concerns six astronauts from around the world aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The plot begins when they discover a single-celled organism in a soil sample from Mars. They revive the microscopic entity with some external stimuli. As a result, the little amoeba, which they’ve dubbed “Calvin” starts to develop at a rapid rate. It’s soon clear that their understanding of this entity is not very good. They’ve underestimated the intelligence of this thing. They make that error several times actually and it’s always to the delight of an audience seeking more thrills.

You can’t read a review of Life without the critique referencing a certain sci-fi classic. That’s totally fair. Life is made up of the DNA of others films, and one in particular. I’m not even going to name the picture because I think it unfairly poisons the mind against this production. Apparently, a story loses credibility if it’s inspired by another film, even one that came out nearly four decades ago. That’s hogwash. The act of homage isn’t a reason to castigate a film. Even the precise movie in question, now venerated as a masterpiece, was chastised as merely a remake of 1958’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space at the time, so there! Let’s give director Daniel Espinosa some credit. He stole from the best and he does it with the polished art of a seasoned pro.

Life has the look of quality in every detail from the elegant art direction to the talented cast. What better way to dress up your picture than with an A-list ensemble. Ryan Reynolds is Rory Adams, the wisecracking (is he ever anything else?) mechanic of the crew. He operates the machinery. The actor worked with Daniel Espinosa before in Safe House. The connection initially gave me pause because that drama was utterly generic. Life, in contrast, is not.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays the space station’s doctor, David Jordan. His limited part is eclipsed by the other actors in a bit of casting unpredictability. Rebecca Ferguson is Miranda North, a scientist from the Center for Disease Control. She’s responsible for keeping everyone safe. Let’s just say she’s not too good at her job. Ferguson is best known as the fetching Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. She’s an appealing presence here as well.

The rest of the cast will be more unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, but no less captivating. Miranda is joined by fellow Brit Hugh Derry, a microbiologist played by Ariyon Bakare (British TV miniseries A Respectable Trade). ** Spoiler Alert ** The black guy does NOT die first – a refreshing twist. Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada (Sunshine, The Wolverine) is Shō Murakami the experienced astronaut who’s ready to retire. While on board, his wife gives birth back on Earth. Last but not least is Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya as Katerina Golovkina, the commander of the ISS. She has appeared in a smattering of Russian films since 2002. The thespians go a long way into making this spectacle something engaging. After all, if we didn’t care about these people, the story would fail.

Life is an intense, heart-pounding saga that never lets up. The production design is dazzling. The opening scene, an uninterrupted nearly 7-minute take, is a marvel. The ISS set is constructed like a labyrinth and it’s easy to feel claustrophobic within. That adds to the tension as I was riveted throughout. Screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese have worked together before (Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Deadpool). The script gives us just enough detailed jargon to seem cerebral but without getting bogged down in a lot of intellectual mumbo jumbo. They have a sophisticated take on this outer space thriller that really elevates the presentation into something classy. I mean let’s be clear. At heart, this is a formula sci-fi horror tale and nothing more. Don’t go in expecting to have your mind expanded. Nevertheless, it is nice to see something that isn’t part of some larger franchise. The action entertains a lot better than some warmed over reboot or sequel. Life is worth living….er uh I mean watching.

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17 Responses to “Life”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I agree with you about those originality arguments. It’s so lame. Cool you enjoyed this so much

  2. I kind of consider this to be Jason X, with Jason replaced by Calvin, but with better acting and direction. Can’t say I was enamored, but enjoyed enough. The ending is pretty awesome.

    • I’m not really a student of the Friday the 13th film series, but Jason X was the one set in space right? What a clever connection. Makes me almost want to watch that film now.

      • No, don’t watch Jason X in space lol! It’s pretty bad, I’ve only seen it on SyFy. But this is kind of a slasher movie, especially in the 2nd half, which is where I felt the connection was sort of applicable 🙂

  3. I had so much fun with this movie. It’s been a little disheartening reading so many reviews utterly dismissive of it as derivative etc etc but I also to some extent agree that it isn’t very original. I just wasn’t expecting the precipitous drop from the near-90th percentile on RT to the mid-60s the very next day, I guess when it opened Thursday night. I even think the RT critics’ consensus summary has been re-written since it first went up. That caused me to scratch my head a little.

    • Yeah reviews have been rather mixed. The bad ones seem to hold Life to this unrealistic standard that no other film must meet. As if “dangerous threat in space” is a copyrighted idea.

  4. Your review sounds pretty fair I must say. I can’t talk because I haven’t seen the movie, but I will get to it.

  5. Lots of fun thrills. Typical, why are you folks making stupid decision moments. But I liked this quite a bit. Had me on the edge of my seat. 3 1/2 stars

  6. Cool you enjoyed this so much I can’t talk because I haven’t seen the movie, but I will get to it.

  7. I wasn’t really a fan of Life, but I didn’t mind that it borrowed ideas/themes/aesthetics from other films. I just think others have done this type of story better. At moments I found it riveting, and impressive (for the opening take you mention), although I found the performances to be bland, and the plot progressively more unbelievable and predictable. Far from the worst movie I’ve seen this year. I agree with you that it least it’s more entertaining and puts more thought into its proceedings than the standard sequel or reboot.

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