PASSENGERS (USA/12A/116mins)
Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Sheen
THE PLOT: Thirty years into a 120 year voyage from Earth to the newly colonised planet Homestead II, Jim (Chris Pratt) finds himself awoken from hibernation and alone on the spaceship The Avalon. After a year of spending time with Arthur the Android (Michael Sheen) and playing all the games available to him on the ship, not to mention trying to get answers to why he has been awoken, he faces an impossible dilemma.
THE VERDICT: After years in development hell, and almost 10 years on the Blacklist of most liked scripts, ‘Passengers’ has finally made its way to the big screen. Originally starring Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon – among others – ‘Passengers’ is directed by Morten Tyldum, who previously brought us The Imitation Game and Headhunters, and is not quite the deep space adventure we thought it may have been.
Chris Pratt stars as Jim, an engineer travelling to Homestead II to build a new home for himself, quite literally. There is a great opportunity for Pratt to explore the toll that absolute solitude can take on a person, but he never truly gets a chance to do so. Jim is likeable, but this then poses problems of its own, since he is faced with an ethical and moral dilemma, that does not seem to trouble him all that much. Jennifer Lawrence plays Aurora, the second of the two passengers to be awoken aboard the Avalon. A writer from new York, Aurora has very different reasons for leaving her life behind. Lawrence has more emotion to play with throughout ‘Passengers’, but her changes in loyalty and switches in emotion come rather too fast for the character to feel as though she has truly thought them through. Laurence Fishburne has a small role as a crew member, Michael Sheen is charming and warm as a bar tending robot, and Andy Garcia has a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo toward the end of the film.
Screenwriter Jon Spaihts has had a mottled career to date; he brought us the flawed and troublesome films The Darkest Hour and Prometheus, but also penned the recent Doctor Strange for Marvel. ‘Passengers’ has a muddled and troublesome script at the best of times, and this comes down to two things; the moral and ethical choices the characters make, and the lack of time given to actually tell the audience about these people, and flesh them out on screen. There are interesting questions brought up in ‘Passengers’, but these are rarely answered, and it feels as though both the romance, and the set piece in the final act of the film are tacked on for the sake of giving the film a way to end.
As director Morten Tyldum does well with the quieter scenes in the film, and plays up the chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt, making them infinitely watchable and likeable on screen. It is only when certain decisions are made throughout the film that doubts begin to niggle, and characters seem to change their mind with little indication as to why. As well as this, thin characters only fleshed out by quirks and charm may be watchable, but they end up feeling unsatisfying, as does ‘Passengers’’ plot hole ridden ending.
In all, ‘Passengers’ had the potential to be something great, but not enough time is given to explore the emotional and mental impact of waking up 90 years too early and knowing your days could be played out alone in space. Even though Lawrence and Pratt are great together, Pratt’s lack of dramatic chops often shows, and problems with character development means that ‘Passengers’ ultimately sinks, when it could have soared.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Not a remake of the 2008 Anne Hathaway film, Passengers is best described as an interstellar Titanic. That is, if the Titanic was a failure-prone ghost ship and Jack and Rose woke up to find themselves having to manage it by themselves.

    In deep space, the starship Avalon is on a 120-year journey to a new planet. On board are 258 crew and 5,000 passengers ready to start a new life in the new world. All are in cryosleep until a few months before arrival, with the ship on auto-pilot. That is, except for mechanic Jim (Chris Pratt) who wakes up 30 years into the journey due to a malfunction in his cryotube, which is supposed to be fail-safe. He finds himself the only person awake, with robot barman Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company. Unable to access the sleeping crew or the bridge, he has no choice but to sit it out and wait… until he goes crazy from the thought of dying alone. Then something changes and writer Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up to find herself in a similar situation. Initially disoriented, Aurora finds herself drawn to Jim. Their companionship soon turns to love, but things aren’t going to be easy. The Avalon is suffering one system failure after another and as Aurora says at one point, they’re on a sinking ship…

    The comparisons with Titanic are fairly obvious here, right down to a king-of-the-world space walk and a class system on board the ship (Aurora is a gold-class passenger). Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery though. Working from his 2007 Blacklist script, Jon Spaihts tweaks the Titanic story for a mostly engaging space journey. Though, in the future we obviously haven’t mastered warp travel. Spaihts’ script also conveniently forgets that time is measured differently in space, a hard fact that Interstellar made all too clear in one heart-breaking scene. A little dramatic licence is acceptable here though, so we can sweep some space dust into those script holes.

    The dormant Avalon is a call centre nightmare of technology gone wrong, where there are no humans to talk to or no failsafes built into it. This reviewer kept wondering if there was a fail-safe to wake the captain in the event of serious malfunction, like the Botany Bay from the Star Trek episode Space Seed. Still, Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum has fun poking at the unhelpful technology, producing some of the few laughs in the film. The film mostly succeeds on the charisma of its two stars as they figure out how to survive on board a flying ghost ship. Pratt and Lawrence produce fireworks here, enough to disguise some of the weaker elements in the script. The film looks great too, making good use of its sleek production design and large, empty sets.

    Still, a film that relegates the great Andy Garcia to little more than a 5-second extra doesn’t quite deserve four stars. Passengers is a three-star cruise – exciting, intriguing and emotional, but it doesn’t quite have all the features of the gold-class film we were hoping for. ***