Imagine you’d committed yourself to migrating to another planet. To sleep for one hundred and twenty years. After this you’d arrive in a new world full of opportunity and adventure. Now, imagine that after only 30 years of seep you were woken up by accident. With no way of re-entering hibernation and with 90 years to go without human contact, what would you do?
It’s a solid sci-fi concept that Passengers tries to explore but just can’t seem to do justice to. And that’s before you get to an abhorrent decision made by one of the main cast. A decision whose repercussions the film doesn’t quite know how to handle.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Ho boy, this one is tricky. Anyone who has been following the development of Passengers since it was a black list script (the annual survey of the most liked yet un-produced screenplays in Hollywood) and possible vehicle for Keanu Reeves, should know there is a very troublesome choice at the heart of the film. A plot point that isn’t really in any of the trailers, but which the whole film revolves around.
As this plot point could be considered a twist, we won’t discuss it in detail here but you should be aware it’s it seriously impacts the movie and detracts from any enjoyment you may garner from the second half of the film..
The official synopsis for Passengers is that two would-be colonists on a star-ship are awoken 90 years too early and have to come to terms with living out the rest of their lives on the ship, never setting eyes on their new home, Homestead II.
You and Me Always, and Forever
As well as having to manage the boredom of being trapped with only one other person to talk to for the rest of your life, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) & Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) have to figure out how to deal with the increasing number of malfunctions occurring on ship. A task complicated by the fact that the ship sees them only as passengers, not crew, so they can’t gain access to any of the ship’s systems. Luckily Jim’s a mechanical engineer and with a little help they just might be may be able to save the remaining passengers, and themselves.
Like most good sci-fi stories, Passengers takes a fantastical premise and uses it to shine a spotlight on certain aspects of humanity. For the first half of the film, this is handled in a similar manner to The Martian, another movie about isolation, with tenderness, humour and occasional despair.
After the “twist” however, (and it’s not really a twist, the audience knows exactly what is going on, it’s just not in the publicity material) the film’s attempt to shift into a romantic-action-thriller falls flat. It’s never able to escape the incredibly dark shadow of what has come before.
Lost in Space
Who knows how much of this is due to the casting of two of the most bankable stars in the world at present? Pratt delivers his usually goofy, yet charming performance but even the most-likeable-man-in-the-world™ can’t save a reprehensible character decision. Lawrence is OK, but isn’t given all that much to do and undergoes a change of heart at the end of the film that adds to the feeling of creepiness. Michael Sheen adds another oddball character choice to his roster as an android barman, but even his quirky performance can’t save the last half of the film.
The look of the film is impressive enough. It’s no 2001. Despite the Avalon’s twisty exterior design aesthetic, inside it looks more like a mall in space. There are a few impressive action scenes that take place in zero gravity but it’s hard to take it all in when the film mishandles the repercussions of its main twist so easily.
No matter the subject matter or genre, filmmakers send messages with the films they put out, intentionally or unintentionally. Unfortunately, there is a very nasty one at the core of Passengers constantly undermining what is intended to be a sweet, space set, romance.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne.
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Official Site here.