WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
What would you do if you found yourself awake 90 years before you were supposed to be on an interplanetary voyage with no way to go back to sleep and no one to keep you company? That is the questions poised in PASSENGERS, Hollywood’s latest science fiction drama. The film centers on Jim Preston, a man who is awoken from hibernation after his pod malfunctions after the ship collides with one too many massive asteroids. Jim quickly realizes that not only can he not go back to sleep, he can’t access the command center or wake the crew, as those sections are restricted and sealed behind impenetrable doors. After spending more than a year alone with only an android bartender to keep him company, he breaks down and decides to wake up someone else: Aurora Lane, a writer who is on this life changing trek for the story. After Aurora comes to grips with her situation, she eventually starts up a romantic relationship with Jim, but he hasn’t told her the truth about how she woke up, and secrets like that have a way of coming out. Once she learns the truth her hate and anger are palpable, but they both soon realize they have bigger problems as more and more of the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and their survival, as well as the survival of everyone else on board, is at risk.
While the premise for PASSENGERS is quite interesting, the film pushed the boundaries of willing suspension of disbelief a little too far. At one point Jim must manually hold open a door so they can vent the ship’s reactor and all he has is a door that doesn’t even block the entirety of his body and his spacesuit to guard against the heat and flames, yet somehow he survives the experience despite the fact that the reactor is hot enough and powerful enough to propel the ship at half lightspeed. While this was the most glaring issue there were other smaller ones that I won’t elaborate on as i think this example makes my point. Barring these moments the film has excellent production values. The visuals are great, with the ship, both its interiors and exterior, are well designed and look great. Also, space and the other astral bodies they encounter look fantastic, even though there isn’t as much of this as one would hope from a space film. The directing is competent, but nothing to rave about, with the camera work being done well enough to keep you engaged but not creative enough to really grab your attention.
While the story isn’t bad per se, it does suffer from being overly predictable. Jim wakes up and tries to fix his predicament, when he can’t he becomes suicidal, that is until he finds something to fixate on to keep him sane, Aurora. From here the predictable plot continues, because of course he eventually wakes her up and she finds out in the end and yada yada yada. Add to this predictability that the only events that spike up the predictability are deus ex machinas, and you end up with a story that is rather boring despite all the attempted twists. I will say this, it was nice to see a space drama that didn’t involve aliens or war, and actually touched on the realities of off world colonization, but while that was an interesting backdrop it was unfortunately used on a story that just doesn’t keep your attention and has virtually no rewatchability.
Despite the small cast, the biggest highlight of PASSENGERS was definitely the performances. Christ Pratt (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) plays Jim Preston, and it is nice to see him in a role that has an ample amount of range. Jim is a man in an extraordinary and unique circumstance, and he suffers, rages, and dwells on his predicament before making an impossible decision, and Pratt gives a nuanced performance that feels very real and heartfelt. From immense pain and loneliness to utter happiness, Pratt does a great job of bringing this everyman character to life and make him someone we can all relate to, even when we don’t want to. Aurora Lane is played by Jennifer Lawrence (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE), and she delivers a strong performance that, while certainly not her best, far exceeds the story. Lawrence has a great presence and she owns her character, easily embodying her passions and fears, making them feel completely hers. I was also impressed with the chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt, as their interactions come off wholly natural, despite the storytelling that leaves some very big question marks about their relationship and feelings. A delightful surprise was Michael Sheen (TV’s MASTERS OF SEX) as Arthur, the android bartender on the ship. Playing an android that is the perfect bartender might sound easy, but delivering almost all your lines in the same tone and emotional range despite the subject matter isn’t a simple task, despite how effortless Sheen makes it look as he immaculately delivers even the most earth shattering of lines in perfect stoicism. Lastly, Laurence Fishburne (TV’s BLACK-ISH) plays Gus Mancuso, a crew member who wakes up when the ship’s mounting errors causes his pod to malfunction. While Gus is a small supporting character he plays an important part in moving the film ahead and giving the situation the level of gravitas it deserves, and this is the perfect kind of role for Fishburne, as he effortlessly delivers a powerful yet vulnerable performance as the ailing crewman.
PASSENGERS suffers from a less than stellar story and some outlandish happenings that are simply too inane to be believed, but it does boast some decent performances and top notch visuals. If you’re looking for great science fiction, you have certainly come to the wrong place, but if you want to burn a couple of hours with talented actors while looking at a pretty movie, there are far worse choices you could make.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10