D: Morten Tyldum / 116m
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia
The spaceship Avalon is on its one hundred and twenty year journey from Earth to colony planet Homestead II. On board are two hundred and fifty-eight crew and five thousand passengers, people looking to build new lives on the colony planet. Everyone is in a state of suspended animation, asleep in hibernation pods until the Avalon is a few months from reaching its destination. Thirty years into the journey, the ship is struck by a massive meteorite. Following this, one of the passengers, engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) is woken from hibernation. The only passenger who’s awake, and with no way of resetting the hibernation pod to put him back to sleep, Jim finds the only company he has is that of an android barman named Arthur (Sheen).
After a year by himself, Jim is joined by Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a writer looking to find a story in the migration from Earth. As time goes by, a romance develops between them. But the ship is constantly malfunctioning, sometimes to the extent of putting Jim and Aurora’s lives at risk. They do what they can to fix things as they happen, but it becomes obvious that there’s a bigger problem to contend with – they just don’t know what it is. When crew member Gus Mancuso (Fishburne) is also awoken by mistake, the trio begin to make a concerted effort to locate the source of all the malfunctions. But when they do, the potential arises for one of them to have to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the ship…
Ostensibly a sci-fi movie about a stricken ship and the stranded souls on board, Passengers works best as a romantic drama, but even then it lacks the depth and the courage of its own convictions. Jim and Aurora make for a seemingly perfect couple, but thanks to the way in which the movie is advertised, what you don’t learn until seeing the movie is that their relationship is founded on a lie. So you have a broad, generic romance where two people inevitably fall in love, and just as inevitably part ways before coming together again for the sake of the movie’s big finish (and an unnecessary coda). Lawrence and Pratt work well together, and there’s a certain amount of chemistry between them, but unfortunately the emphasis is on the spaceship rather than their characters’ straightforwardly handled romance.
Tyldum’s last feature was The Imitation Game (2014), another movie that lacked a sense of tension (or urgency) as it told its story, and his work here is no different, failing to make the ever-expanding crisis on board into the pulse-pounding race against time it needs to be to be fully effective. Instead, Jon Spaihts’ script has Pratt mouthing romantic platitudes at every opportunity, while Lawrence endeavours to make her character’s novelistic intentions at all interesting. Only Sheen rises above the blandness of the material, and he does so by means of some very detailed micro-expressions. Unsurprisingly, the movie looks very good indeed, with Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography highlighting and complementing the sterling production design of Guy Hendrix Dyas. But when a movie fails to make you care if either or both of the main characters lives or dies, then there’s definitely something that’s not working as it should be.
Rating: 5/10 – a decent premise that’s handled with too many broad brush strokes, Passengers wastes its cast on a characters in peril narrative that should have been given more prominence, and a romance that remains tepid throughout; Lawrence and Pratt do their best, but even they look as if they’ve lost interest by the time the third act hoves into view, and Tyldum never quite seems to know how to knit everything together into a satisfying whole.