So, About That Unexpected Death in the Sci-Fi Film 'Life'
Vulture ran a piece this morning, You Know You’re a Movie Star When You Get a Surprise Movie Star Death — praising the team behind the sci-fi film Life (writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and director Daniel Espinosa) for killing off a certain character early on in the film.
NO, REALLY: SPOILERS
Here’s the thing about Life: I didn’t revile the film, as Steven did, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it, either. It was OK. It was a mediocre Alien clone with a twist ending that I appreciated (but that left mainstream audiences pissed off, as attested by the miserable C Cinemascore).
What I hated about it, however, is what Vulture seems to appreciate most.
The thing is: I was promised a Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal film. The trailers heavily featured both Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. All week long, Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal did the talk show circuit, where they were amazing together, bragging about what great friends they were. And see: This movie didn’t look “great” to me, and the reviews were pretty middle of the road to negative. On the basis of that alone, I’m on the fence about whether to go see Life.
However, as much as Bill Simmons denies it, Ryan Reynolds is a “movie star,” especially after Deadpool, and the Vulture headline confirms it: “You Know You’re a Movie Star When You Get a Surprise Movie Star Death.” Ryan Reynolds is a movie star, and he’s the reason some people wavering about going to see Life went to see it anyway. I was excited about Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal working together!
And then Ryan Reynolds dies. Twenty minutes into the film. And yeah: In the moment, it’s kind of cool, because it seems like Life initially is going to obnoxiously hew to horror movie cliches by killing off the black guy first. But the black guys survives. Ryan Reynolds does not.
And if you’re like me, you’re like “Oh sh*t! Did they just kill off the star of Life in the first 20 minutes?! Holy shit! No way! That’s cool!” But then five minutes later, you’re like, “Damn. This movie would’ve been a lot better if Ryan Reynolds were still in it,” because Reynolds brings his brand of wisecrackery to the first 20 minutes of Life, and then there’s no more wisecrackery. The comic relief is gone. Poof. Everything else after that is a bleak slog because — as Steven noted in his review — it’s just a “fucking loop until the crew runs out of members.”
And maybe I’d have been OK with that if I hadn’t been promised a “Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal” film. However, Life is not a Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal film; it’s a Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson film, and while Ferguson is an amazing actress, she’s wasted here as “the world’s shittiest quarantine specialist.” One knows what to expect when Reynolds is in a film, whether it’s good, bad, or awful (and I’ve seen plenty on the latter end of that scale) and Reynolds, to me, brings enough wise-assery to the proceedings to make even the most awful film close to watchable (holler if you’ve seen Van Wilder, and don’t tell me you didn’t love Just Friends, which is a terrible movie made weirdly enjoyable by Reynolds).
I appreciated the gambit. Killing off big movie stars early on is cool, but it’s frustrating when that movie star is the reason you went to see that middling fucking movie in the first place and all you’re left with is puppy-dog eyes Gyllenhaal staring down the barrel of alien death and Rebecca Ferguson trying to piece together a performance with duct tape and spit. Life is not a particularly good movie, and it was never going to be: But it would have been better if Ryan Reynolds had actually played more than a glorified cameo.