On the outset, Passengers looks like a potentially solid film with two great leads in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, an up and coming director with his much buzzed about movie, The Imitation Game and the screenwriter of Doctor Strange and Prometheus.
But, of course, the spotlight is primarily on Pratt and Lawrence and all the positives and negatives that come with that kind of attention. Their performances and the story premise alone should have made Passengers a blockbuster, but somewhere along the way the story takes a few too many bizarre turns and finds itself in a sea of bad lines, clichés and plot holes. By the end, rather than a passenger enjoying this film, you may feel more like a hostage to a poorly written romance wrapped in a pretty science fiction film.
Written by Jon Spaihts and directed by Morten Tyldum, Passengers starts off with a spacecraft traveling to a distant colony, but it malfunctions and Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence) wake up 90 years too early.
It’s clear throughout that this is a beautiful film from top to bottom. The special effects, the sets, the production quality, the actors, they’re all gorgeous and perfect. In some ways, it reminds me of the film Oblivion. It’s all sleek, glossy and full of eye candy, but ultimately hollow. Tyldum, for his part, make the working parts flow seamlessly and without problems — he does a solid job with the camera work and the editing. It’s a shame he didn’t have a better script to work with, but I’ll get to that later.
Pratt and Lawrence both give solid performances. Though, it’s obvious Lawrence is the better actor and has more range than Pratt. At the same time, Pratt is fully engaged and brings his A-game in this movie. He keeps things consistent. As I’ve brought up before about his role in The Magnificent Seven, his performance felt like he was searching for his voice and it was all over the place. In this case, he finds a voice for Preston’s character and sticks to it. He also brings some emotional depth once Preston realizes he’s the only one awake on the spaceship and might die alone. It’s in these first scenes when it is just Preston, that the movie is at its best and that’s large in part because of Pratt.
It can’t be stressed enough that the script is the weakest link in this film. To some extent I can see Spaihts having this great idea, writing the first part and nailing it, but then struggling to make the second and third act work. The idea of a man stranded on a spaceship with thousands of sleeping humans makes for a great science fiction, but it’s when Jim Preston falls for Aurora Lane while she’s sleeping in her chamber and struggles with the moral dilemma of waking her up that things get even better. It can’t be denied that this is fantastic storytelling. Forcing a character to grapple with a morally problematic situation makes the audience think and question if they’d do the same thing.
However, the story falls apart the moment Preston makes the decision. It suddenly makes a sharp turn away from that theme and into a quick, sloppy and forced romance with a moral problem that is far too heavy and ugly to ignore but acts as the elephant in the room. In short, Chris Pratt looks like a major creep and that takes away from the romance element. That aside, the love story itself is poorly written. They fall in love way too quickly especially given their horrid circumstances and the relationship is so lovey-dovey and doe-eyed after one date that it demands an eye roll. There’s no depth to their relationship which begs the question, “Why is this necessary to the story?”
The third act could have been a great time to save this film from itself, but instead, it blasts full speed ahead with even more bizarre turns, deus ex machina plot devices and tons of action that divert from the elephant in the room. Many scenes and dialogue feel like they are specifically written to fill in potential plot holes, but more plot holes seem to come to the surface the further the story gets to its predictable conclusion.
As more problems arise, more clichés abound and by the middle of the third act, everything crumbles in on itself. The dialogue becomes either cliché, sappy or silly — and the characters seemingly are immortal and immune to the hazards around them. Even more frustrating is that they solve each obstacle with relative ease by wandering around and randomly finding things, pulling on levers or going out and opening a door to let all the hot air out. In the end, the moral lesson they’re so eager to share tries to be profound but comes across as an asinine justification to a complex and difficult moral decision.
It’s tragic when a potentially great premise and opening act turns into a total train wreck. One can only imagine what this film might have been if in better hands. While the production quality is top notch, it’s hollow without a good story and solid characters. Unless you’re fine only watching eye candy for two hours, I suggest skipping this one.
Photos Courtesy of: Columbia Pictures