Alien organisms turn deadly in Life, a movie that asks the question “should all hope for life on Earth be pinned on the durability of one pair of really thick gloves?”
An international crew on a space station in Earth’s orbit retrieves a craft carrying samples of ancient Martian life. Despite this seeming like one of those projects that needs a team, only one guy, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), really examines the samples, with oversight from Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), whose job is to constantly remind everyone of how dangerous it would be if the organism escaped. Maybe then have more than one thick pair of lab gloves standing between the cells, which Derry reanimates, and a room chock-a-block with vents leading all over the ship.
The revived single cells turn into a multi-celled organism that starts to grow and react. (And is named Calvin by some school kids.) After a lab accident causes Calvin to go dormant, Derry electrically zaps it back to life, causing Calvin to squeeze Derry’s hand until it breaks and then cut its way out of its woefully flimsy containment box. It zips around the lab room until it finds a vent (after first squeeze-killing a lab mouse and growing bigger). Quickly, the crew (which also includes Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jake Gyllenhaal and Olga Dihovichnaya) begins a race to capture or kill Calvin before it can kill them. Miranda explains that her specific mission also requires her to do whatever is necessary to prevent Calvin from reaching Earth.
This — we must protect Earth from the unstoppable killing machine of Calvin! — is the movie’s central concern and everything not directly related to this task feels weak and hurried. The movie rushes to get to “unkillable blob,” which is fine, no reason to dilly-dally on the way to get to the central action. But the result is that I don’t care when the characters I never really got to know are, in classic horror-movie-in-space fashion, picked off one by one.
The way characters problem-solve about Calvin also seems strangely weak. These are not people sciencing the heck out of anything. Instead, we get the sense that either this highly significant scientific mission has basically only one scientist or several of the crew members are scientists but are just bad at it.
And, as aliens go, Calvin isn’t particularly exciting. Its abilities are ill-defined and after a few early stages looking like a CGI translucent starfish Calvin begins to resemble a smaller, down-market alien from the Alien movies. Calvin regularly looks, well, silly.
I think I get what Life is supposed to be — heart-pounding space-based suspense thriller where the stakes are All Life On Earth — but it never rose to that level for me. Maybe it, like Calvin, needed a few more jolts of energy (more lively characters, more specific alien abilities) to really come alive. C-
Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror. Directed Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Life is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed by Columbia Pictures.