Other reviews pretty much hit the nail on the head when it comes to Life. It feels a lot like Gravity in its setting and visual style while playing with a storyline similar to Alien, but does not measure up to the success of either film. Even so, Life stands out among other recent big-budget productions for at least giving a go at something a bit more intellectual. The premise is unique, if a bit fantastical; a probe travels to Mars and discovers a single-celled organism, which apparently has been in suspended animation for millions of years. The crew aboard a space station successfully revives the lifeform, which grows rapidly. The rest of the movie is pretty much what you would expect, with lots of running (or floating) around the ship and violent death.
The problem with Life is that it tries to be both a brainy science-fiction film and an action-packed thriller, but cannot find its footing in either genre. A more restrained version with a slow-burning plot would have been a much more interesting experience. Indeed, the movie starts off on a calm and promising note, refusing to rush into gory action scenes within the first few minutes. But the writers could not leave well enough alone, and soon enough we are treated to scenes of a starfish with (literally) unbelievable strength and speed chase around the hapless astronauts.
Despite its sometimes hokey behavior, the alien is more interesting than the bland human performances. Unfortunately we never learn much about the thing on a scientific level; instead most of the creature’s abilities are left to the imagination. There is no real cerebral grip in Life, save for the notion articulated in the movie’s tagline: we were better off alone. Stephen Hawking likes to warn that the discovery of a more advanced species could be similar to the European encounter with Native Americans, which did not end well for the latter. But the movie leaves this theme largely undeveloped, never really showing how the alien threatens all life on Earth. Unlike Ridley Scott’s xenomorph, this organism does not appear to require gestation within a human host. Near the end of the film, it becomes apparent that the alien possesses some sort of higher intelligence, but Life does not seize the opportunity to explore the question of whether this being can think and reason.
The film is remarkably unadventurous about its own subject matter, so what should be a very good movie is instead just mediocre. Life can be enjoyed for what it is—simple good fun—but I cannot help but think about what could have been. Too bad we did not get to see a slow-burn science fiction film that ultimately builds up to an explosive ending. Life strikes a note more akin to silly fiction than science-fiction, which is fine if that is what you want. Me? I would have been alright with waiting for cable on this one.