Screening Life at the Air & Space Museum’s Imax theatre kind of feels like cheating. It’s a screen that could make the most garbage of movies look like magic and the sound system is so fully immersive, at times I really felt like it was going to make my tinnitus worse (I became an old person very early in life, okay?). Just sitting in that theater with that stupid big screen is enough to make you smile. But I get it, if you’re going to try and stack the deck, you might as well go full throttle. The one thing that gorgeous theater can’t change though, is a shitty story. The best parts of Life make it feel like a good Alien rip off. The problem is those wonderful moments of pure thrill are peppered with such cliche plot points that they get pretty damn close to negating all of the good things going on.
Which is weird because Life definitely pulls some tricks you weren’t expecting. The biggest and best one comes fairly early on and I wish I could talk about it, but it’s a massive spoiler and all of you would hate me. You’re just going to have to trust me when I tell you that they take legitimate risks with the storyline, I just wish they would have taken more.
So let’s get this lackluster story out of the way. Life follows six astronauts based out of the International Space Station. When we first meet them, they’re anticipating the arrival of some very important samples from Mars. After some brief altercations getting the samples, scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) excitedly takes the samples into his high tech lab and we all buckle down for some sweet sweet science shots. Soon enough, the sample starts to react to the environment by growing very rapidly. It looks like a cute little see through jelly fish thing. One night while the crew sleeps, alarms start going off and the crew soon realizes that something is deeply wrong in the lab. The temperature has gotten too high and the sample has responded by retreating into itself and will no longer respond to any external stimulus. After trying a few different things, Bakare decides to lightly shock it. Surprise, surprise, the cute little jellyfish (who they keep calling Colin) doesn’t like this and decides to break Bakare’s hand. We quickly find out that Colin doesn’t just grow at an exaggerated pace, but it also learns shockingly fast. Quick as whip Colin breaks out of the lab and goes about terrifying the crew. People get injured, people die, hope is lost. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds are there. Your classic coming of age alien tale.
If the body horror of Alien is too much for you, this is a great replacement film. Sure, there is some gore and there are some scenes where I was legitimately impressed with how gross they were getting, but it’s more tame. There’s no chest burst or anything. On the other hand, if unconventional camera work makes you feel nauseous, the first few minutes of this film are going to be tough to get through. I thought the zero gravity camera work was delightful. It sucked me into the movie right away and made me feel as if I too was bouncing around ISS. It was fun to float around with these characters before the action started, but I can 100% see how the bobbing and twisting upside down would upset people.
God, Life could have been a pretty good movie. I mean, it was always going to be an Alien rip off, but it could have been one that would make us feel less bad about the recent Alien films. The camera work was delightful. There was some pretty decent action and suspense. There was also some very well done gore and I’d even argue the ending is kind of fun. It’s just that there were too many scenes were the writers hardcore dropped the ball. I don’t enjoy watching movies where I know what’s going to happen throughout the whole thing. It doesn’t make it fun. It makes it boring. That and they probably shouldn’t have made the alien look like a cross between a jellyfish and a python. That was pretty dumb too.