It’s been 38 years since “Alien” hit theaters and even with multiple sequels, a remake of it was inevitable. The thing is this: “Life” isn’t a remake. This sci-fi/horror yarn is an original piece of work, but it rips off nearly every single element of director Ridley Scott’s classic to an almost shameless level.
Naive scientist that never believes the alien life is nothing more than a killing machine? Check. Snarky, comedic relief from a grunt? Got it. Selfless captain that puts their own life before everyone in their crew? You know it.
“Life” does have thrills and scares throughout, but that’s fairly easy to make happen when working from a template of one of the most frightening movies ever made. In moments, it’s so effective that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a blatant carbon copy.
“Life” takes place on the International Space Station located in Earth’s orbit. The opening sequence is as impressive a cinematic feat in recent memory as director Daniel Espinosa creates a one-shot sequence in which the crew is capturing a damaged probe returning from Mars with soil samples that could possibly contain life.
The soil samples do contain an organism that is brought back from hibernation by British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), who treats this creepy amoeba-looking thing like his newborn child. This is met by skepticism by the comedic relief, engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), whose dialogue is either jokes or telegraphed foreshadowing.
After being named Calvin by kiddos in the States, the alien grows and eventually acts like the shark in “Jaws.” It systematically hunts down everyone on the space station, leaving quarantine officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) in a lurch as she attempts to close the alien off from the rest of the crew and keep it from reaching Earth.
Along for the ride is Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose cynicism of humanity has kept him on the space station for longer than any astronaut in history. David is mostly along for the ride, but by the time he ominously reads the children’s book, “Goodnight Moon”, it’s obvious where “Life” is going.
It all leads up to an ending that is meant to be shocking, but screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick build up to this with zero subtlety. In the hands of a filmmaker actually interested in surprises, the final fifteen minutes may have worked. However, Espinosa makes it painfully obvious what is going to happen thus eliminating any possible twists.
These very talented actors are wasted on truly stupid dialogue that seems more fit for a B-movie. It seems like Ryan Reynolds was added to this cast just so the entire movie wasn’t a dire slog of predator versus prey. He brings a few wisecracks to an otherwise sad sack, depression filled 103 minutes.
Hiroyuki Sanada, a talented, charismatic actor, is completely wasted and it’s clear where his character is heading once he watches his wife give birth on Earth via Skype (complete with Skype sounds and graphics, gotta make those side dollars). Even an actor that can lift average material up to a higher standard like Jake Gyllenhaal can’t do much here and he’s mostly a bystander until the final thirty minutes or so.
“Life” isn’t the worst sci-fi movie ever and if it’s to be seen, it should be seen in a theater as the views of Earth from space are actually fantastically rendered. The alien is rightfully gross and the marketing team has made a wise choice to keep it’s appearance under wraps. However, there’s just nothing new to see here and when the game of “Ten Little Indians” starts up, it’s an exercise in guessing which character will make it to the end of the movie.
And then there’s that ending. It wants to be clever and dark, but the execution is so very, very poor. It’s so bad that any amount of goodwill, even if you can tolerate all the “Alien” knock offs, makes this a wasted “Life.”