With the noted resurgence of interest in space adventure stories, whether it be the emotional meditations of Gravity and Interstellar or the warm optimism of The Martian, it was only a matter of time before we traded in intellect and humanity for cheap nihilism, but did it have to be so boring? It’s perhaps emblematic of the current studio climate that Life feels even remotely refreshing: unconcerned with franchise building and city-destroying portals though that didn’t stop fans from wishing it was, Life is perfectly comfortable being a relatively taut, small-scale, capably crafted R-rated thriller with a beginning, middle and end. It’s also the kind of film so unambitious and competently mediocre that it doesn’t leave much of an impression before, during or after watching it, instead reminding you of all the far superior movies you could be watching. “It’s like Re-Animator” Ryan Reynolds says early on… except not at all.Bookending the film with similar images of a space capsule hurtling through the vast emptiness, Life doesn’t waste time getting to its premise. When a container filled with samples from Mars suddenly goes off course, a multinational crew aboard the International Space Station is forced to perform an improvised collecting method, their sense of coordination and cooperation skillfully rendered in a digitally-stitched tracking sequence (cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, earning that paycheque as always) that is among the only two thrilling sequences in the film. However, once the samples are on board, the crew quickly discovers that among them is the first sign of extraterrestrial life, a microscopic adapter (“all muscle, all brain and all eye”) that the world dubs “Calvin”, presumably after the adorably mischievous comic strip character, but perhaps more aptly after the strip’s inspiration, French philosopher John Calvin, whose Christian theology Calvinism is strongly tied to ruminations on fate and eternal damnation. (Again, the references are far more interesting than the film itself.) From there they begin to experiment on and study Calvin from the safety of the ISS, mentioning the words “firewall” and “quarantine” approximately 30 times while they do so. The rest is history. If you’ve seen Alien or The Thing you can probably piece the rest of Life together, apparently that’s what Deadpool co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick did, anyway. Calvin’s first strike, the only moment that makes use of the films R-rating, that cleverly reduces one of the films top-billed actors into a meat sack in the middle of his movie star scene is genuinely subversive, but after that we’re presented with a parade of increasingly embarrassing attempts at humanizing blank archetypes (the most egregious probably Jake Gyllenhaal’s reading of his personal copy of Goodnight Moon that’s set-up Chekhov’s Gun-style) followed by increasingly less creative and dramatic ways to snuff out the crew. By the time Calvin, who is meant to be constantly evolving, is squeezing the third or fourth character with its tentacles you really wonder why it couldn’t have evolved a chainsaw for an arm or something. Credit where it’s due, however, there’s something inherently entertaining in its random, blunt force vs. human error premise, especially during the crews downtime where they talk about how ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ they are, which they conveniently never seem to express in the film’s action (whether it’s meant to be intentional or not is unclear). Unfortunately, the film’s potentially interesting concerns with human insignificance and the impassionate inevitability of biology are consistently undermined by director Daniel Espinosa who can’t seem to mine them for anything other than hollow platitudes, the expression of these ideas not coming forth in action or filmmaking, but instead contrived exposition/plotting and dull performances, together rocketing towards a finale that reads as a direct challenge to the optimism and humanity of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Sorry my man… I’ll take Cuarón’s skill and spirit over dumb, cruel and lazy cynicism any day of the week.