Film Review: The 5 Pros and 5 Cons of ‘Life’

By Jonathan Shuping

March 26, 2017

The Life of which this review is the subject is not a board game or a magazine. It shouldn’t be confused with the Keith Richards memoir or the NBC TV series starring Damian Lewis. It most definitely is NOT the 1999 Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence comedy (and one of the funniest movies of the past 20 years). This Life is the new science fiction thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson about a crew of scientists aboard the International Space Station who discover life on Mars in the form of a seemingly harmless little amoeba-like microorganism which quickly grows into a tenacious extraterrestrial killing machine.

When 20th Century Fox decided to move the release date of Alien: Covenant from August to May, Columbia Pictures opted to bump Life up to March staying ahead of its competition while also avoiding it. Similar moves have worked out well before, like when Tombstone raced into theaters ahead of Wyatt Earp. Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp flick earned $56 million and is considered a modern Western classic while, a few months later, Kevin Costner’s version (with more than double the budget) grossed only $25 million and is all but forgotten. Then again, Deep Impact beat its impending-asteroid-doom competition Armageddon to the screen and made $140 million, but moviegoers still flocked to the Michael Bay explosion-fest in droves as it garnered $201 million. It isn’t worth discussing the Ashton Kutcher vs. Michael Fassbender Steve Jobs biopics because calling that a competition would be laughable.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan courtesy of Columbia Pictures

In the end, release date doesn’t matter as much as substance in regard to box office numbers or critical praise. With that in mind, should you rush to see Life in theaters or just wait for Alien: Covenant? Here are five arguments for each side:

Five reasons to see Life:

1.)  You are a Jake Gyllenhaal fan
Gyllenhaal has been on a roll lately and he’s riveting again here as the crew’s reclusive doctor. In fact, all the performances are engaging. Then again, if your movie only has six characters, they’d better be, right?

2.) You love a good one-shot
Daniel Espinosa (director of the underrated 2012 action flick Safe House) lets the camera float around the vessel as weightlessly as the crew members much like Alfonso Cuaron did in Gravity. He also employs some stylish tricks including a cold open that consists of a single, continuous shot moving throughout the ship to intro each of the characters.

3.) You have a short attention span
The run time may be 103 minutes but it feels like 30. The pacing is fast and furious and the action is non-stop.

4.) You’re a sci-fi geek
If you just want to live in space like Gyllenhaal’s Dr. Jordan or any space-related movie is enticing to you, then you’ll probably dig this one too. Also, the visual effects are phenomenal.

5.) You’re into super-creepy suspense
Mega-intense and terrifying, it will not only keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will make your skin crawl much like Prometheus did.

Ryan Reynolds as Rory “Roy” Adams courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Five reasons NOT to see Life:

1.) You’ve been feeling depressed
Still haven’t fully recovered from Manchester by the Sea? This is not the one to bring you out of your funk. The script is rather humorless, though to be fair there’s not a lot to laugh about when you and your friends are stuck on a spaceship with a super-cunning alien who’s systematically hunting you down. There’s a decent twist, but there’s also a decent chance you’ll leave the theater with a feeling of hopelessness.

2.) You’re dating a guy named Calvin
Calvin is the name affectionately bestowed upon the cute alien creature just before it begins to wreak havoc. Horror movies can be great dates, and while I’ve been out of the dating game for some time, something tells me watching Calvin burrow his way into various human orifices for two hours isn’t going to bode well for post-date activity. On that note, you may not want to see this if you’ve eaten a big meal. Seriously, it’s gross.

3.) Your favorite children’s book is Goodnight Moon
Jake Gyllenhaal’s eerie rendition will change your entire perspective of the beloved classic.

4.) You’re a huge Ryan Reynolds fan
If you go into this thinking it is a Ryan Reynolds movie, you will be disappointed. No outright spoilers here, but the fact that Reynolds got equal billing with Gyllenhaal and Ferguson is a bit misleading.

5.) Because Alien
I’m all for sticking with a proven formula, (hey, it worked for Star Wars: The Force Awakens) but this has all been done before and done better by Ridley Scott. The simple fact that we live in a world where Alien exists on blu-ray means you might be better off staying home and watching that than shelling out cash to see Life in the theater.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan courtesy of Columbia Pictures

In conclusion, Life is a pretty good sci-fi horror flick, well-acted and capably produced, although not necessarily groundbreaking or original. My recommendation would depend on how many of the above reasons apply (or don’t apply) to you. As for a star rating, I’ll go with…

Star Rating: 2 ¾ out of 5

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