The moment this trailer premiered, I was hooked like a fish. Well, sci-fi does have that effect on me no matter what, and riding off the high off of some truly awesome sci-fi films of late, I saw this as among one of the most anticipated movies of the last stretch of this year. It looks like a story about a pair of space-farers that were originally part of a voyage to a new planet to colonize. But during their cryogenic sleep or whatever they’ll use, they woke up way too early and now just try to cope. Looks interesting.
But lets take a look at the cast. Co-starring, we have Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I find myself in the minority of those that aren’t totally on board with Lawrence. She’s by no means a bad actress, far from it, but everyone seems to make her out to be the next Meryl Streep. I’ve seen her turn in the Hunger Games films, but it seemed like only CATCHING FIRE really showcased her talent. A lot of people like to point to films like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK or WINTER’S BONE, but I thought both characters were not that interesting. She’s not bad, but she’s not what I remember most or cared about. Although I did thoroughly enjoy her in AMERICAN HUSTLE. The actor I am excited for is Pratt. From his humble and hilarious beginnings in TV show PARKS AND REC, to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and JURASSIC WORLD, he is probably one of the funniest, most engaging actors today. I have a man-crush and I’m proud to admit it. In supporting roles, we have Michael Sheen (NOCTURNAL ANIMALS , UNDERWORLD , and FROST/NIXON ), Lawrence Fishburne (BATMAN V SUPERMAN , THE MATRIX , and PREDATORS ), and Andy Garcia (MAX STEEL , THE UNTOUCHABLES , OCEANS ELEVEN ).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing, we have Morten Tyldum, known for THE IMITATION GAME (2014) and HEADHUNTERS (2011). Penning the screenplay is Jon Spaihts, known for DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), PROMETHEUS (2012), and THE DARKEST HOUR (2011). The composer is Thomas Newman, known for FINDING DORY (2016), 007 SPECTRE (2015), and GET ON UP (2014). Finally, the cinematographer is Rodrigo Prieto, known for THE HOMESMAN (2014), THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013), and WE BOUGHT A ZOO (2011).
Overall, high expectations and expecting really good things. This is my honest opinion of PASSENGERS.
The starship Avalon is making its 120 year space voyage to the newly colonized world of Homestead II. However, thirty years into its journey, it comes across a nasty asteroid field that causes a ship-wide power surge. This causes only one sleeper pod to malfunction and wake up one of the passengers, James “Jim” Preston (Chris Pratt). Naturally, this puts him in quite a pickle. For a whole year, he tries to make the best of it, but eventually, loneliness and depression settle in and his only companion during that time is an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Well, soon, his need for any companionship leads him to the pod of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a journalist back on Earth. He listens to her farewell vids, even reads her work and becomes fond of her talent and eventually, her. Despite debating and knowing that opening her pod means stealing the life the planned on Homestead II, he does it anyway. As the two become closer, the ship begins to slowly break down and more systems go haywire, making a desperate race to fix the problems and save their lives and everyone else’s life aboard the ship.
DISCLAIMER: I’ll be going in depth with the film and will be sporadically talking about spoilers and won’t really be able to keep them separate. So if you haven’t seen this film yet, skip ahead to the bottom of my review (CTRL-F, type in “end spoilers”) for my overview of the flick which will have no spoilers.
Remorsefully, it’s not quite the great movie that I was hoping for. Far too many flaws, but it’s still mostly a solid film with more than a few good qualities to make it worthwhile.
Alright, so first thing’s first, my boy Pratt maintains his lovable charisma and perfectly bounces between comedy and drama. Jim is the only person awake for a year and the story does a pretty solid job of showing what that would entail. A sense of fear to figure out what’s going on, getting few answers, or meaningless ones. He doesn’t quite break down into a panic, but because there’s no one around to dish out consequences, he eats food in the ship’s restaurants, and drinks at the bar, with his room getting billed the entire time. It’s actually pretty funny and some of the visual gags, while not hilarious, are still pretty fun to look at. He helps himself to a more expensive room, takes part in dancing games, even taking a space suit to “bungie jump” off the side of the ship. Anything to keep him occupied and from going insane, but this doesn’t last forever before he starts getting bored and his suicidal tendencies start seeping through. There’s even a great moment when he’s standing in the airlock without the suit and he’s ready to flush himself out into the cold vacuum of space. He obviously doesn’t do that because there’s still an hour and a half left of the flick, but Pratt still delivered a heart-breaking moment. That all dissipates when he happens across Aurora’s pod and he starts contemplating waking her up. It’s written careful enough to make it not seem entirely out of a creepy sense of sexual desires, but rather out of a desperate need for some sort of companionship that isn’t Arthur. No one condones his actions when he does wake her up, but in retrospect, you see the horror in his own eyes. Not okay, but not beyond the realm of understanding.
Now speaking of Aurora, this is officially ranked among one of my favorite Lawrence performances. Bar none, this surpasses many of her previous films. While Jim plays a charade that he doesn’t know why she’s awake any more than he is, she also goes through the motions of panic, misery, but eventually does fall for Jim’s charms. Both Lawrence and Pratt have great chemistry and they do make a cute couple. But as soon as secrets unravel, Lawrence naturally is horrified by Jim’s choices and avoids him, hating him. Quite intelligently, despite Jim’s sincerest attempts at justification and sorrow, she never buys it, at least not until the end of the film.
Unfortunately, this is also where I realized the story started to fall apart, and in retrospect, was somewhat dead on arrival. I can’t help but feel like the story that was presented in the trailer, a man and a woman wake up not knowing why they’ve woken up too early, and spend the entire time trying to get back to sleep. There was a serious sense of mystery and intrigue that the final product doesn’t quite deliver on and would have worked so much better the alternate way. Instead, Jim can quite understandably be seen as a creep and the story a case study in Stockholm syndrome. The first and second act work fine in their own respects, but the third act comes along and it’s only now that the two characters try to fix the problems with the ship. The only fix I can see is pick which story should be developed: a space romance, or a mystery thriller. Hell, even combining the two isn’t a terrible idea, the pieces are all there, but they’re not arranged very well and the focus isn’t where it should be. It’d be a much better story if they both were awakened and spend the entire movie trying to discover what caused their pods to malfunction and what they can do to fix the problem with their limited knowledge. That would have been such a better story.
The liar-reveal scene can be seen a hundred miles away. Predictability on this level is always a frustrating downgrade, as well as the contrived manner in which is happens. “I’m not just a bartender; I’m a gentleman,” my ass. Fishburne is a wasted character, literally coming on screen to die and give the remaining characters a golden pass to get through any locked door (a wrist ID badge, but golden pass sounds cooler). And I’m pretty sure certain sciences have taken way too much fictional license. There’s a scene where the gravity is turned off and Aurora is swimming. Immediately, the pool starts to rise and she’s trapped in the center of the floating pool. At first, she’s able to swim out to the edges to catch her breath, but then when another chunk of the pool collides with her, suddenly she’s helpless and shown to be lifeless. The gravity turns back on… and she gets out of the pool. The hell, movie?! She was dead! Give us a few seconds of her convulsing, splash back into place, and then get out gasping for breath.
The biggest issues with the movie is that there are fixes that I don’t think were ever considered. A lot of the problems felt lazy and needed a logic check. But I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t enjoy it. The special effects were great, the set designs were fantastic, the humor was funny, the drama was engaging, it’s not the worst. Sure, it’s clumsily put together on the whole, but it still worked enough. I love the leading pair, and I loved this set-up, but it is indeed imperfect. I do recommend seeing this film, all things considered. Just take those expectations and bump them down a few notches because it’s not that good. It’s not that bad either, it’s still a solid movie, but not what the trailers promised.
My honest rating for PASSENGERS: a strong 3/5