“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it”
These words by Star Trek’s Dr. Spock to Captain Kirk echo through my mind as I settle in to watch Life. With popular actors such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds headlining the cast you might be fooled into believing that you are in for a drama that orbits somewhere between Interstellar (2014), Gravity (2013) and Aliens (1986). But director Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi thriller makes last year’s Jennifer Lawrence-Chris Pratt starring Passengers look good (almost).
Orbiting Earth in deep space is a large international space station on a mission to capture samples from Mars and examine if there is life on another planet. The crew of this vast space machine is made up of just six officers, among them a Japanese (Hiroyuki Sanada), Britons (Ariyon Bakare, Rebecca Ferguson), Americans (Gyllenhaal, Reynolds) and a Russian (Olga Dihovichnaya). Each one has a different skill set and responsibility—a doctor, an engineer, a scientist, a firewall specialist among others. Of course their interventions with the sample prove to be disastrous. Life on Mars it turns out is far stronger, smarter and more hostile than these six crew members. While the drama and spaces within the station are well designed and filmed, the story is just silly as the crewmembers make one poor decision after another and seem unable to overcome a solitary predator. Unlike Ridley Scott’s terrifying Alien (1979), Life teeters on the brink of farcical. Reynolds, propped by Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, plays it predictably playful. The five remaining actors serve the mood to the best of their abilities.
The background music should have served as a warning for some schmaltz lurking around the corner. And then it comes—as all hope seems lost, Gyllenhaal recites from Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s book Goodnight Moon. But it’s just Espinosa lulling you into a false sense of conclusion before unleashing a final twist that makes you dread the possibility of a sequel. Life’s too short for that.