On paper, Life is a great blockbuster. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson lead a talented cast in a sci-fi horror flick that asks what happens if we go looking for life on Mars and find that said life is a much more efficient predator than we are. The humans versus aliens in a spaceship narrative is nothing new, but with a legit martian that’s described to us as a being where every cell does all of the work — i.e. every cell is a muscle and a brain and so on and so on. The Martian is quickly dubbed Calvin by some cute kids back on Earth and the giddy flight crew sets out to study it. And of course, that’s when everything goes wrong.
Life had promise in both the caliber of talent and the backstory of the alien menace. And though it falls short of successful, let’s take the time here to observe that the cast leaves it all out there on the screen. The script lets them down, to be sure, but they give it everything they have, and make Life palatable, even though some of its key choices are quite off-putting. Kudos must also be given to the effects team for creating a creature that is both wicked and cool. If all the budget went to the beast, well, it wasn’t misspent, but it is clear where the rest of the production suffered.
Though Life has a lot of fun with its setting and delivers a number of highly creative deaths, it really loses its way in everything being a bit too much. One early death scene seems to go on for ages and combines slow, gratuitous blood with gross out under the skin maneuvers and a sort of floating meat puppet finale before revealing the victorious creature bigger, bloodier and more bloodthirsty than before. Calvin’s first (non-fatal) attack is a bit stunning and quite intense, but the over-the-top nature of the film’s first death reveals the true nature of everything else that follows. It’s an exercise in spectacle that telegraphs its would-be reveals and is forced to sacrifice logic in the name of extending the conflict.
If a trifle is all you’re after, you could do worse than Life, but if you want a fully-realized sci-fi film, you’re much better off revisiting Arrival.