It was certainly an odd choice for Columbia Pictures to release Life so close to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake. While I get the tactic of counter-programming, Life had a ton of rumors swirling around it. Non-disclosure agreements were signed at SXSW and the long-gestating Spidey-villain Venom film was announced for next year. Suddenly, what seemed like a little sci-fi thriller with a great cast was thrust into the spotlight with some asking, “Is this a top secret Venom prequel?” While there’s no spoiler in confirming that director Daniel Espinosa’s Life has zero to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is safe to say that it still holds its own. Thanks to the cast and screenwriters’ Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s (Zombieland, Deadpool) intense atmosphere, Life is still a whole lot of fun.
In an unspecified future, the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission aboard an International Space Station, has just captured a Mars space probe returning with sought-after samples on board. The crew — Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), Rory (Ryan Reynolds), Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) — are excited to be the first to discover that yes, there is life on Mars. Unfortunately for them, what appears to be a single cell organism quickly evolves. Rory doesn’t trust it. Hugh is fascinated by it. And Miranda is standing by for the CDC in case of an emergency. Soon enough, their discovery — named “Calvin” — starts to morph into a murderous monster. Now, the crew is pitted in a race against time to save themselves while keeping Calvin from finding its way to Earth.
Some may have a hard time with Life considering it careens so far off in the second act, away from its original homages to 2001 and Alien. What we get instead is a space station funhouse where the crew is picked off one by one as the creature continues to grow and become more vicious. There are a few random instances where the screenplay gets bogged down in exposition, but as a creature feature, it plays like gangbusters. Once it gets to the action that is. It also takes its cues from ’80s slasher films as Reese and Wernick find unique ways to kill everyone off. Meanwhile, Espinosa — best known for his foreign language offerings — makes sure to keep the pace, and heart rates, at full tilt with Calvin manages to literally be anywhere while also showing just how smart it’s becoming.
Others may balk at the anticlimactic ending. The creative team aims for a downbeat, ironic twist, and makes you wonder if Sony is planning on making enough money to warrant a sequel. Instead of a sequel, they should have had the writers stretch the screenplay out a little more, to finish the story off. As fun as Life is, it probably won’t get a second installment This is not a franchise starter. Thankfully, I was able to separate my hopes for a Venom prequel and let the film prove itself. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s definitely every bit as slick and vicious as Calvin. Could it have been a little leaner and meaner? Possibly. But that doesn’t get in the way of having a good time at the movies. This is a popcorn sci-fi entertainer and for those willing to not let the second half get in the way, you’ll walk out asking if you can finally breathe again. And that’s fine praise for any thriller. Just because it’s titled Life, doesn’t mean it has to be philosophical.