So, a sci-fi romance starring two of the hottest and most appealing actors in the world at the moment – what could possibly go wrong with that? Well, as it turns out, Passengers is a wonderfully under-done film. The stars are great, the visuals superb, but there’s nothing really to it.
On a routine journey through space to a new home, things start to go wrong on a giant spacecraft. Circumstances lead to two passengers, who ought to be sleeping in suspended animation, are awakened 90 years too early. As Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) face living the rest of their lives on board alone, with the android Arthur (Michael Sheen) the only other face, they begin to enjoy every luxury they could ever ask for and begin to fall for each other. Things take a turn for the worse as they learn the ship is in grave danger and, with the lives of the other 5000 sleeping passengers at stake, they must act to save them all.
If you’re reading that synopsis and thinking it sounds familiar, you wouldn’t be far wrong – especially for the first half of the movie, it employs exactly the same set-up we’ve seen in films like The Martian. There is one interesting and different element to the plot, involving Lawrence’s character, which affects the central and (effectively) the only relationship in the film. Even so, it starts of a cunning piece of sci-fi, which makes it more of a shame as it approaches its climax – there is only one way for the film to end, and it gets there efficiently rather than excitingly. If you enjoyed the tension of the film’s first half, the soap opera developments towards the end may be very off-putting to you.
Pratt and Lawrence share wonderful chemistry – they have easy likeability, and you’d get the feeling that spending your life with one other person wouldn’t be so bad if it were one of them. Pratt employs his everyday guy persona that has worked so well before, which in my opinion made the aforementioned plot element so much creepier (especially seeing as the movie’s way of dealing with it is ‘let’s just forget about it and move on’ – I would have made it into a horror or a psychological thriller-type thing instead).
Lawrence shows why she is such an in-demand name, bringing quirk and charm aplenty and infusing the film’s only real warmth. Along with these two, Michael Sheen gets a few laughs as a bartender android (think Lloyd from The Shining if he were less ‘murder-your-family’-y), and Laurence Fishburne shows up for a cameo that is info-dump and story device, but not much else.
Although I’ve criticised a bit, there is stuff to like here. Visually, it is stunning, with the effects being all the more stunning because of the contrast with the muted greys and whites of the set. Thomas Newman provides a score much in the fashion of his score for Wall-E, mixing sci-fi alien sound effects with gentle piano motifs to provide a score that matches the isolation of the picture (how he doesn’t have an Oscar yet is beyond me). And although I’ve had some bad things to say about the story, the romantic elements of it work nicely – it’s just a shame how the film pans out towards its end.
There isn’t a lot to Passengers, and it really does come across that way – it feels every second of its two hours, and the likeability of the stars doesn’t distract from the shallowness of the picture. It works well on the surface – everything about it is stunning, and there are certainly worse films to watch – but there’s nothing underneath.
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Aurora Lane), Chris Pratt (Jim Preston), Michael Sheen (Arthur), Laurence Fishburne (Gus Mancuso), Andy Garcia (Captain Norris)
Running Time: 116 Mins