‘Passengers’ Movie Review
Hollywood is a copycat business. If a certain kind of film is a hit, many more just like it pop up until audiences move onto something else. Remember when we were getting a new exorcist knockoff every January? That happened.
The young adult (YA) craze was a thing. Yeah, thanks Divergent and Hunger Games. You had a good run. They’ve since been replaced by the Disney live-action remake phenomenon. Cinderella and The Jungle Book have already been released and Beauty and the Beast invites you to be their guest next March.
But we also have another trend going on right now and that is the annual space movie. It began in 2013 with Gravity, moved onto Interstellar and continued with The Martian. This year’s entry is Passengers starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Is it as good as those other big-budget space movies? Not exactly.
The film takes place in the future where luxury cruise ships have been traded in for the space variety. But the passengers aren’t on a week’s vacation sipping Pina Coladas. They’ve chosen to travel 120 years to a distant planet known as “Homestead Colony” to start a new life. Obviously they can’t be awake the whole time otherwise they might resemble Guy Pearce at the end of Prometheus.
The more than 5,000 passengers have each been equipped with a sleeping chamber to preserve their bodies until they’ve reached their destination. But when one of those hibernations pods malfunctions, Jim Preston (Pratt) wakes up 90 years too early.
Faced with the reality that he will die alone after being awake on the Starship Avalon for a year, Jim contemplates suicide until a female passenger named Aurora (Lawrence) wakes up too.
The premise for Passengers is outstanding. How many space movies have we watched where you see those hibernation pods defying the laws of time? The idea of someone waking up early and being isolated on a spaceship is interesting and when you throw in another character, the space romance genre is suddenly created.
This script has been around for years and it was originally intended for Keanu Reeves and Rachel McAdams. But Lawrence and Pratt are at the top of every executive’s list when thinking tentpole film and it was their casting and the premise that had me really intrigued for this film.
But you can have all the right ingredients and still make something subpar if it isn’t executed well. Directer Morten Tyldum and writer Jon Spaihts have crafted a bland story with unmemorable set pieces, little-to-no humor and simplistic plot elements.
Lawrence and Pratt are about as likable as any A-listers working today and despite this, the story manages to make their eventual relationship and chemistry rather dull. We get to see their blossoming romance, but it’s done mostly in montages to convey the passage of time. How are we supposed to know these characters if they’re constantly jumping from scene to scene? The movie plays out like a series of Hallmark vignettes rather than one intimate story.
The dialogue isn’t doing them any favors either. One character actually says “bite me” at one point. Another has a line that goes something like this: “You give me a good cup of coffee and the Chrysler building and I can write all day.” Yikes.
With two leads as charming as them, you’d expect some sparks and humor. Sadly, the few jokes that due exist fall completely flat. One of the problems is that Pratt’s character is alone for a good 30 minutes before Aurora arrives. Pratt is an extremely likable actor, but he isn’t exactly Tom Hanks in Castaway. Pratt needs other actors to play off of and he doesn’t quite have the acting chops yet to carry a film all by himself.
It also doesn’t help that when Lawrence is eventually introduced, you realize how much better of an actor she is than him. It’s not hard to figure out who has the Oscar between these two.
Every blockbuster needs to go out with a bang, so little things start happening to the ship which will inevitably lead to a bigger threat in the third act. But when we discover what the problem is, it felt lazy and unoriginal. If that is all it takes to damage a ship flying manually through space, they need a new design.
The finale is where you’ll find the major set pieces. The only sequence worth mentioning involves Aurora trapped in a floating water bubble when the zero gravity malfunctions. Now that is something we’ve never seen before.
But when it comes time to actually fix the major problem, it’s seemingly resolved in no time at all. So much for a big finish.
Conceptually, Passengers had so much potential. A great premise, charming leads and a prime Christmas release. But the movie is undone by script problems that felt conventional and by-the-numbers.
This story was floating around for ten years and this is what they came up with? I can only imagine how many rewrites it went through. Unfortunately, Passengers felt like it was on cruise control rather than another exhilarating entry in the space genre.