Passengers is a lovely film if all you’re looking for is pretty pictures of pretty people on a beautiful starship.
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt find themselves awakened from suspended animation thirty years into a 120-year voyage from Earth to a new colony on Homestead II. Their meeting isn’t particularly cute – it’s kind of creepy – but since they’re stuck there…
Passengers opens with shots of the Starship Avalon fending off a collision with a comet/asteroid/huge space rock. Error screens begin to appear as Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) finds himself awake on the deserted ship – deserted because everyone else is still in suspended animation.
The first third of the film follows him as he goes from frustration – the ship’s customer relations hologram insists that suspended animation pods never fail and that he is only four months from touchdown on Homestead II – but the ship’s computer tells a very different story.
So, Jim proceeds to enjoy the ship’s many entertainments – including the bar, where the android Arthur (Michael Sheen) is happy to provide drinks and counsel – until the initial fun wears off and Jim, having tried everything he can think to get to the crew to wake them up and get help, gives up and lurches from day to meaningless week.
Then, a fateful accident brings Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) to his attention. He reads everything she’s written and tries really hard not to give into the impulse to wake her up – and fails. But he doesn’t tell her woke her up.
A playful relationship develops between them while, all over the ship, things are beginning to go wrong. The situation worsens until the Avalon is at stake – along with its 4998 sleeping passengers – and a member of the crew (Laurence Fishburne) is awakened to deal with the crisis. Unfortunately, his pod is damaged so he doesn’t return in full health…
Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), from a script by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange), Passengers is an exercise in beauty. Every shot is beautifully framed and every major performance (all three of them) is extremely good.
The problem is that, even though Jim is shown agonizing over the decision to awaken Aurora, it’s still just plain creepy – especially as we watch her reciprocate his feelings for her. We know it’s going to end badly – either from either the ship or Aurora exploding – or possibly both!
The film looks great – Pratt and Lawrence make an outrageously good looking couple and they exhibit some pretty fiery chemistry, and the starship is one of the most beautiful ever designed for film – but after the extremely satisfying section of the film where Jim goes through a year of solitude (Pratt is very, very good here), and how that affects him, the rest seems (however well executed) pretty much by the numbers.
One other mitigating factor that keeps Passengers from falling into the abyss is that there is no villain. The Avalon is slowly going wrong because of technical problems created by a totally neutral force. That’s kind of refreshing.
One major less mitigating factor is how the film reaches its inevitable conclusion (which, in and of itself, is a problem). It’s a rather large problem involving a nuclear force. But we must have out Hollywood ending…
Passengers is released in 3D, but the screening I attended was 2D so there’s no way for me to say how well it works in that format. There are a few sequences that I can imagine are impressive (one swimming sequence in particular).
In the end, Passengers is reasonably entertaining – and great to look at (the production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is spectacular), but it’s a movie you’ll probably forget before the end credits finish rolling.
Final Grade: C+
Photos courtesy of Sony/Columbia Pictures