*. I like the British film critic Mark Kermode. He sort of stepped into Roger Ebert’s old role of the regular guy who likes regular movies but who is actually very smart and well informed as well. So when he calls Life “the very definition of a popcorn movie,” I’m inclined to agree with him.
*. To quote a bit more: “In the case of Life you know exactly what you’re getting and that is what you get.” Again, I would not disagree. Indeed, this was the critical consensus. Life is pure formula, with nothing original about it.
*. Where I would depart from Kermode’s take is in his likening the film to Alien. Not because Life isn’t a rip-off of Alien. It most certainly is. But because he brings in Alien as an example of how in horror there are only so many stories to tell and that Alien was just one of these tricked out by being set in outer space.
*. Well, yes. But I think that’s being much too generous to Life. Transplanting the gothic horror of Alien to space was something new. Also new were all the creative elements of design in that film. We hadn’t seen anything like the Xenomorph on film before. Or spaceships whose interiors looked like medieval dungeons.
*. In Life there is nothing new aside, I suppose (and now I’m the one being generous here), from bolting the look of Gravity onto Alien. There’s even a long opening shot that gives us a tour of the International Space Station which is borrowed directly from the opening shot of Gravity.
*. After that, things settle down. An alien life form is discovered. It turns out to be hostile, hungry, and precociously intelligent. No matter what the crew do to keep it quarantined it keeps finding a way out (or in). Communications go down, requiring one of the crew to walk outside to fix something. They use a flamethrower to try and kill it. All that sort of thing.
*. In fact, most of Life is so derivative that it even starts to play with our expectations. When we see Hugh Derry acting queasy and the team grab for the defibrillator . . . tell me you weren’t expecting his chest to collapse and the alien come bursting out as soon as they shocked him. We’ve all seen The Thing. We know how this scene plays. It’s actually disappointing when we find out that Calvin’s only got him by the leg.
*. So what is different? Director Daniel Espinosa saw Ryan Reynolds as the movie’s Janet Leigh but the comparison doesn’t work that well because in Psycho Leigh is the audience’s sole focus while here Reynolds is just part of an ensemble. Also worth flagging as at least a bit of a twist is the bleak, sardonic ending, which probably contributed to the disappointing box office.
*. But basically this is a cheesy B-movie tricked out with lots of money behind it and some name stars you wouldn’t expect to see in such parts. Unfortunately the stars are trapped in generic roles they can’t fight there way out of. And by the way, isn’t it a little much that the black guy (Ariyon Bakare) is not only guilty of letting the alien loose in the first place but for its second escape as well?
*. I’m not big on the science having to make sense in these movies. In part because I don’t care that much and in part because I’m not a scientist so what do I know. But are we supposed to believe that Reynolds somehow just reaches out the Canadarm and catches that giant probe as it goes speeding by? Wouldn’t that have torn the arm right off? And nothing about the flamethrower scene made sense to me at all. I’m sure you don’t use those things inside space stations, even in emergencies.
*. Yes, it all zips along pretty well. It’s a good little B-movie . . . with a $60 million budget. My main problem with it is that the alien, Calvin, just wasn’t interesting enough to look at. I like that they keep him small, which actually makes him scarier, but other than that he’s just a squid rendered in what I thought was some rather poor CGI. A creature like that belongs in a cheaper movie, which in this case might have made it a better movie too.