Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Movie Review: "Life" (2017)

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
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A group of astronauts and scientists on the International Space Station receive and study specimens from Mars. One such specimen is a microscopic organism that doesn't stay microscopic for long and wreaks havoc on the Space Station and its crew once it grows. 

"Life" is directed by Daniel Espinosa, who is know for films such as "Safe House" and "Child 44." It is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote the fabulous "Deadpool"...oh, and they also wrote the awful "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya, who make up a multi-national group of scientists and astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Their job is to study the most recent soil samples from the planet Mars. In these samples, they find a dormant single cell organism they then coax out of hibernation. The cell multiplies and quickly grows into a considerably larger squid-like creature that is essentially "all muscle, all brain, and all eye." Once it feels threatened, this creature starts to unleash its wrath on the crew. 

"Life" is an original sci-fi story in that it is not a remake, sequel, or something based on any previously published material, at least not on the surface. Deep down, however, it is very derivative of movies that came before it like "Alien" and even "Gravity." Here, a crew stuck in space tries to survive against a newly discovered, extremely adaptive species. There are a couple of unsettling scenes early on that can genuinely make the audience cringe in a good way. There is a mild amount of tension, but unfortunately, never goes beyond the bare minimum. From there, as the martian known as Calvin continues its rampage, the film starts to fall into typical sci-fi horror tropes, contrived plot points, and convenient situations that are only there as devices to further these contrivances. The acting is completely competent from all of the actors involved, though a few play to type. Of course, Ryan Reynolds has found success being the sarcastic and snarky go-to, so that's the role he plays once again. Other parts include Rebecca Ferguson as the super efficient scientist who wants everything by the book, Jake Gyllenhaal as the jaded former soldier trying to get away from the hatred of earth, Hiroyuki Sanada as the new father/tech expert of the crew, Ariyon Bakare as the super attached scientist who nurtured the creature in its infancy, and Olga Dihovichnaya as the token Russian. This is really where the character development ends and what we are left with is fairly thin. We never truly get to know them or care about them beyond a general outline of these archetypes. Despite their high education, this group also winds up doing plenty of stupid things at the most inopportune times, leaving the audience with a typical horror reaction akin to "DON'T GO UPSTAIRS!!"

By far, the best part of "Life" is its special effects. In fact, they are enough to blow you away at times. Though the set pieces do seem familiar to other movies that take place in space, just because they are derivative doesn't mean they aren't cool as hell. In addition, the creature design is awesome. Calvin looks like a cross between an octopus and a sea angel, dangly and gangly and floating and majestic in its viciousness. Speaking of Calvin, it is the type of creature that is essentially the ultimate killing machine with no weaknesses the crew can find. It can squeeze through small openings, it is far stronger than the humans on the station, it is far smarter than anyone (or so it appears), and though it needs oxygen to live, it can survive for an indeterminate amount of time without it. These trite instances will automatically put off some viewers. Something else that may be off-putting to some is the dialogue, which is not the best and often consists of people explaining their plans to kill Calvin in great detail, or espousing whether or not they think Calvin will survive in this or that type of situation. These are the moments where the movie came to a screeching halt. The writers basically made this creature have invincibility at times. For example, at one point, the crew says out loud in their deliberations that Calvin needs oxygen to survive, but a caveat was written in so that it can continue existing even without air. Things are often explained, then happen in contradiction to what was said, like how Calvin can crawl unprotected on the exterior of the station without oxygen for an extended period of time and doesn't die.

"Life" has a few tense and exciting moments, but overall is too derivative and too convenient. Without compelling characters to elevate the story, it remains far too predictable, especially given its very typical horror film finale (which we both love and hate).

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~66%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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