Making a science fiction film based more on fact than fiction is always a gamble. The average movie goer may not notice any inaccuracies but rest assured that someone will and five minutes later, the internet explodes. So, perhaps the trick is to balance the story in a land of fiction with an element of reality. That may very well be the key to success for Life.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals, Donnie Darko) heads the cast as David Jordan, an astronaut who has been aboard the International Space Station for more than a year. His body is beginning to atrophy and body radiation levels are rising, so he knows that his time in space is coming to an end. Our diversified crew includes the female captain Kat, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson, The Girl on the Train) from the Center for Disease Control, paraplegic scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare, Rogue One), new father Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada, Mr. Holmes, The Wolverine) and, of course, our comedic relief character, Roy Adams (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool).The crew is assigned to study a sample from Mars that may contain life. However, once they discover that life is indeed found, they are not prepared for how quickly it begins to grow and adapt to its’ surroundings. And as any good sci-fi movie fan will tell you, things quickly go from bad to worse when they underestimate what it can do and just how dangerous this form of life is.
Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have previously collaborated together on films such as Zombieland (2009) and Deadpool (2016). While there are certainly some fun moments for Ryan Reynolds, the comedy barely has time to surface through the intensity and action surrounding our fearless crew. Reese and Wernick put a new twist on an age-old sci-fi tale of an alien among us in a confined location. Whether it be John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or the 1958 classic, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, we’ve all seen a version of this story before. However, the writing is mostly sharp and only becomes a little dull and tedious in a few moments. The rest of the time, we’re on a thrill ride in space and the characters are acting very much like we would if placed in the same scenario.Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) may have his first true breakout film with Life. The Swedish born filmmaker has spent years on the fringe waiting for that moment. He’s effectively taken elements of Alien (1979) and merged it with Gravity (2013), bringing the tale of an alien within the close confines of a space station that seems very much from the here and now rather than a galaxy far away. While things never get quite as dark as Alien, Espinosa builds on the intensity through effective use of special effects and a thrilling soundtrack that puts you on the edge of your seat. Our alien is clearly something different, not quite the usual man in a suit variety. The weightlessness effect is flawless and exterior space shots are quite believable. Yet, the effects never overshadow the story of real astronauts making real decisions in the face of both danger and a game of survival. The characters remain grounded in reality and none of them fall into the typical sci-fi adventure clichés, which is a breath of fresh air.
I definitely recommend Life as one of the smarter science-fiction epics to hit the theaters recently. It never ventures into over-the-top and unbelievable territory, which may turn off some who feel the need for that in every film. Life offers something a little different that is sure to entertain with its’ action and mostly non-stop intensity. And, for all those rumors about this really being a prequel to the upcoming Marvel film Venom, I leave you with this classic line from the legendary William Shatner…Get a Life!