Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are strangers who are stranded in space, as “Passengers” for a greater cause. The Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II” and transporting 5,259 people, has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers, awaking its inhabitant, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). Preston later opens Aurora Lane’s pod after he looks at her videos and files, leaving them both stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is a journalist from New York City who is interested in cosmic travel. Jim Preston is a mechanical engineer from Denver who wants to leave Earth and bought the ticket for the journey. The two soon discover that the malfunction is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship, and as they try to find a way out, they soon find themselves falling in love and racing against the inevitability of what they have been chosen for. “Passengers” is directed by Morten Tyldum, and is rated PG-13 for sexuality, brief nudity and action/peril.
Mortel Tyldum takes one of the most notoriously unused scripts on the Hollywood black list to offer a very refreshing and stylistic approach into another futuristic vision of our inevitable fates. One thing that I always love is when a movie with a setting in an uncertain future gives us depictions of everything from socialism to our technological advances, and it’s in those ideas where Passengers thrives well beyond a script with more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. The basic setups for everything does take time with this many buttons and gadgets to feature for this audience, but everything feels even more enhanced with gorgeous cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, as well as sexy backdrops and set designs that always meet their appealing marks. If I was grading this movie purely on style over substance, then Passengers would be one of the very best presentations that I have seen this year. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t match in substance what the artistic integrity pursued in style, and as a result we have one of the most flawed creations in a love story design that we have seen most recently.
During an era and age where Nicolas Sparks offers some truly wooden and artificial substances in material, Passengers manages to take it one step further with this truly insensitive flub that is always in search for a proper attitude in tone. As some of you may have read, the twist to this movie is revealed about a half hour into the movie, and this head-scratching technique steps on so many opportunities to ever elevate this movie beyond Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence doing things. I don’t do spoilers, but I feel like this surprise and manipulation of the audience could’ve garnered more emotional response if it was presented midway through the movie when we’ve invested so much of our time and hope in this man and woman as one. To give us it early on in the first half means that we can telegraph everything predictably every step of the way. Consider it like someone telling you about Bruce Willis’s secret in The Sixth Sense before you even watched it, so now everything feels like a waste of time before the inevitable happens. In addition to this, take out your love for the two main actors and see if this movie’s premise sounds like a horror/suspense thriller to you. To make this a love story, goes opposite of everything that is being presented to a logical thinker like me, and it really makes the emotive responses from the characters less relatable during each scene of backlash once this secret becomes known to everyone concerned.
There were also so many different directions that the script signals towards that it simply never takes. This is a screenplay that had plenty of wiggle room to grant us a third act that was pleasing to everybody despite the jaw-dropping portrayal in tone that this movie set, but it instead chooses to take the predictable road every chance it gets. The final half hour of this movie is so frustrating to a science lover like me who understands not only the inconsistencies in their usage of gravity, but also in their adversity that is easy to solve for anyone not involved in the movie. To say I came up with a solution to most of the problems with the ship during the final act is an understatement that further establishes I was smarter than the cast involved. This flimsy layer of dramatic garbage instead dooms this movie to be Titanic in Space, and nothing ever feels as remotely satisfying as that over-exceeding counterpart. If I did have one positive for the screenplay, it was during the opening half hour when Chris Pratt presented a peeling layer of sanity to the isolation that one faces when they are doomed to be alone for ninety years. This arc of the story is simple enough and certainly offered me the most bang for my buck in entertainment before everything gets complicated and shallow during the midway point. To know it only goes downhill from here is made even worse by the fact that you know the answer to the question long before our characters do, a decision in screenplay that should never be warranted regardless of the terms.
There’s nothing compelling in terms of drama for Pratt and Lawrence in their performances, but their chemistry on-screen is enough to make this nearly two hour experience feel beneficial. Pratt in particular offers glimpses into a side of his acting that we have yet to see, channeling a possible genre change someday for the higher waters of dramatic flow. His character feels human in a world that has advanced around him, and Pratt’s every-man routine never wears thin when there’s so much for him to react to with comedic generosity. Jennifer Lawrence simply feels too good for something of this magnitude, but it’s clear that she had a lot of fun with her sexy co-star. If nothing else, people love watching beautiful people interact off of one another, and that much is evident here with the charm from two of Hollywood’s most prominent actors currently. It’s easy to fall in love with Lawrence’s Aurora because she’s the unattainable girl for all of us guys, made even more attractive when you realize how personable she is. While matters creatively around Pratt and Lawrence crumble or diminish their growth, you can’t deny these two keep you from ever being bored, and their magnetic force in delivery will keep you constantly intrigued through some difficult times in structure.
Passengers soars just high enough with an enhancing visual spectrum to ever keep it from crashing, but there’s certainly enough turbulence among its first act decisions creatively, as well as eye-rolling convenience in the finale, for it to ever reach its true potential. Tyldum relies a little too much on his fresh faces to get him over the hump of a script that is terribly flawed, as well as morally irresponsible, and the those two factors are shrugged off so much that it’s hard to take anything at face value. There’s no gravity in space, and even less in Morten’s picture, which takes every chance to test its audience.