Directed by Morten Tyldum, “Passengers” is a glossy and silly Sci fi hybrid (part romance, part disaster flick) starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as sexy space travelers who get stranded in space. And then fall in love. And then have to avert a mega disaster, while looking all sexy. It’s fascinating, sometimes entertaining, sometimes corny and ultimately… an infuriating misfire. Its final act is simply horrendous, sullying the rest of the picture and leaving a bitter taste in your mouth.
In deep space we’re brought aboard The Avalon; a state of the art, self-sufficient travel vessel (a space cruise ship if you will) transporting over five thousand people to a distant colony. Since the journey will take one hundred years, all the crew and passengers are currently in Hypersleep. But oh no! Due to a malfunction, passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up ninety years early and is left alone. These opening fifteen minutes or so are solid; resembling an outer space set “Cast Away.” Jim takes advantage of all the ship’s luxuries and technology while also feeling a crushing sense of loneliness and depression. Being stuck on a travel vessel, knowing that you’re going to die before you reach your destination would be difficult to process.
Tyldum effectively conveys the utter helplessness Jim feels, even while aboard this high tech vessel. Despite all the technology, the robots and computer programs designed to cater to his every need, Jim is very much alone. Even a wisecracking bartender Android played by the delightful Michael Sheen can’t fully replace the companionship of another human. And while the smart computers can be accommodating and relay facts about the ship and the mission they can’t provide any real answers to Jim’s predicament. The question: “why did I wake up so early?” is answered with “our Hypersleep pods almost never breakdown.” Yeah, thanks. “Passengers” is about the limits and failures of technology. It can destroy us just as much as it can help us.
After a year in solitude, Jim finally gets a human companion in the form of Aurora Lane (Lawrence). The two strike up a friendship (I mean, what else are they going to do?) that eventually turns to romance. Pratt and Lawrence have decent chemistry together although the love story often comes off schmaltzy rather than genuinely romantic, their courting feeling forced rather than organic.
Speaking of schmaltz, “Passengers” encounters its fair share when it attempts to be more of a serious drama. The script by Jon Spaihts is rife with clunky and corny lines of dialogue that read like taglines from a motivational poster. Moments that should be poignant and moving are overly melodramatic and unintentionally hilarious-- like when Jim floats out into space (while attached to a rope) and, as he looks on at the awe-inspiring galaxy, he sheds a single tear. No doubt missing his home, his fellow humans! Pratt is part of the problem; while his comedic instincts are effortless (he’s doing the same goofy, cocky shtick he’s done multiple times before) his dramatic skills are still underdeveloped. His overacting usually takes you out of the film. “Passengers” works best as a playful space rom-com with Jim and Aurora flirting, pretending to live the life of luxury, making the most of their time together.
However these flaws seem almost insignificant in comparison to the narrative nosedive the picture takes in the third act. The problem stems from a dark and icky plot point near the beginning of the picture (involving Aurora) that drastically alters the situation and paints Jim as a creepy character. The problem isn’t the twist itself but the way Tyldum and co. handle it, or rather the way they don’t handle it.
When Aurora finds out what Jim did it predictably sends her into an angry, emotional spiral. Though instead of exploring Jim’s deed and its negative repercussions in a deep and thoughtful way, the film suddenly pivots into a rushed and incoherent disaster film wherein Jim and Aurora have to save the ship from certain doom. The whole section feels strained and desperate —as if the producers came in at the last second and demanded that the picture have an epic, explosion filled finale. The camera work is disorienting and the editing is choppy. More importantly, it’s a cheap and insulting way of sidestepping this important plot point/issue. Even more frustrating, “Passengers” has the nerve to revert back to a sappy, upbeat romance during its resolution. One final attempt to avoid the issue.
“Passengers” has good qualities, even great qualities but the disastrous third act and shoddy handling of what is deeply disturbing plot point greatly overshadows said qualities.