SPOILER WARNING: There are mild-spoilers in this review that are imperative in reviewing this film.
The plot to “Passengers” is one that you could discuss around the dinner table with friends for an hour. If you were on a 120-year journey from Earth to another planet and you woke up 90 years too soon completely alone, how would you handle it? It’s a poignant question and an original idea for something that, with the right touch, could be something great. Would you accept your fate? Or try to find a way to get back into hibernation? How would you handle the isolation? These are all questions that are tough to answer and haunt you in trying to figure out. When speaking of “Passengers,” there’s a single choice made by a character involving one of these questions that not only brings down what could’ve been a fabulous film, but also might constitute itself as a spoiler. If you think do not want any part of “Passengers” spoiled for you, read no further.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is a passenger on the Avalon, an interstellar starship traveling from Earth to a distant colony planet, a 120-year journey taken primarily in hibernation pods until the last four months of the journey. Jim has recently woken up from his hibernation pod, only to realize that his pod malfunctioned and awoke him 90 years too early. In his isolation, he finds ways to cheat the ship and give himself the deluxe treatment. After a year of isolation, Jim finds himself ready to kill himself, until he finds Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a sleeping passenger with whom he becomes enamored with. In his lonely desperation, Jim awakens Aurora.
Okay, there is the spoiler, as the trailers made it seem like Jim and Aurora both awoke accidentally at the same time. In reality, “Passengers” takes a much creepier turn that immediately places Jim in a spot that he can’t really redeem himself from. Even when Aurora inevitably finds out and finds leeway to forgive him, the audience can’t help but feel badly for the life that was taken from Aurora from the selfishness of Jim’s isolation. “Passengers” goes from a beautiful space opera to Stockholm Syndrome in 3.5 seconds.
Now, this character choice wouldn’t have ruined the film had Aurora responded in the way that a normal person would respond, or if the film had taken a darker turn with Jim’s character. Yet, “Passengers” chugs along as the romance film it started off as and only left me feeling more and more uncomfortable. Add the perilous mission they take on at the end of the film, and Jim’s indiscretions are all but excused in the sequence of events that expects us to forget that Jim stole Aurora’s life. This is something that completely ruins “Passengers” for me.
Why? Because beyond that, “Passengers” is an incredibly well-made film.
Pratt and Lawrence are both incredibly affable leads (until Jim does that thing that ruins everything), and their chemistry is almost enough to make you forget that Jim is basically her space captor. There’s a reason that they’re so incredibly famous now, because they really are some of the two best working actors today (Lawrence more than Pratt). Even the smaller role designated to Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne is done incredibly well and plays wonderfully on its setting and situation.
Let’s add that “Passengers” is an absolutely beautiful film, led by “The Imitation Game” director Morten Tyldum. The film’s setting upon the starship Avalon is one of the most interesting sets I’ve seen in a film this year. As what I can most readily describe as a “spaceship cruise ship,” this ship is like the adult version of “Smart House” from Disney Channel and it’s really cool to see Jim run around the ship like we all would when we realize that everything is fair game. The production design on the film is worthy of an Oscar for how beautifully detailed and wonderfully lush and interesting it is.
The visual effects in “Passengers,” again, is one of the best of the year. With a singular setting, the film doesn’t often tread into CGI mode, but when it does, it is a flooring display of digital magic, most stunning during a scene of zero gravity while Aurora is swimming in the ship’s pool. Yet even when the film goes into peril mode near the end, the film remains lush and beautifully crafted and Tyldum knows exactly what he’s doing with the film and all of its visuals.
On top of that, “Passengers” is also a stunningly beautiful film in 3D, with one of the better uses of the format this year. The space and settings in the film are absolutely perfect for the format and are wonderfully utilized for the format. This is a film that was conceptualized for the format and knocks it out of the park in almost every way.
Now, when “Passengers” does go into peril mode near the end, the screenplay by Jon Spaihts does fly off the rails into what can best be described as “diet-‘Gravity'” in its execution. Without a steady build-up of peril, simply throwing these characters into a perilous situation out of the blue doesn’t inspire a big amount of intensity or sympathy for when the shit finally hits the fan. Even with that, I found myself rooting for Jim’s failure because I knew that, despite her heartbreak, Aurora would be free of the man who stole her life from her.
“Passengers” is a shame of a film, because I really wanted it to be great, and the worst part is that it is a great film despite one thing that drives the entire bus into the ground. “Passengers” is a beautifully crafted, wonderfully shot and for the most part, well-written film that relies too heavily on the likability of Chris Pratt to justify his creepy and destructive action in not only ruining Jennifer Lawrence’s life, but forcing a love story on top of this. This made me feel incredibly uncomfortable with the rest of the film, a film that obviously had the chops to do something really good. Had “Passengers” done what the trailer said it was going to do, this would’ve been a wholly satisfying space film that continues the streak of them, alas, we’re stuck with this strange Stockholm Syndrome love story that just doesn’t work.
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia.
Runtime: 116 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, nudity, and action/peril.
Also available in RealD 3D.
Columbia Pictures presents, in association with LStar Capital and Village Roadshow Pictures and Wanda Pictures, an Original Film/Company Films/Start Motion Pictures production, a film by Morten Tyldum, “Passengers”