Passengers is a thoroughly morally reprehensible film that doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. It is a movie about nothing but believes it is.
Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up on a space cruise ship, the Homestead II. His cryo pod has malfunctioned because the ship ran into an asteroid belt. We learn Jim is part of a new world colonization effort. The Homestead II is on a one hundred and twenty year journey. Jim discovers, to his horror, that he has woken up ninety years early.
Jim is a mechanic. He uses his mechanical know-how to figure out his situation and adapt. His only real friend is an android bartender Arthur, (Michael Sheen). Jim at first takes full advantage of his predicament. He breaks into one of the luxury suites, he eats at the fanciest restaurants, and chats it up with Arthur while getting plastered. Jim is able to do this for about a year before he starts to slowly grow more and more depressed. Until finally, Jim decides to end it.
He walks naked into an air lock, fully ready to open the door and fling himself into space. Of course he won’t actually kill himself. We’re only about twenty minutes into the movie and Pratt has top billing. Jim backs out and drunkenly stumbles away. Only to pass by a sleeping blonde who catches his eye. He looks down and sees her name Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence).
If you thought her name was awful, boy do I have a surprise for you. Jim decides that they’re meant to be together, and wakes her up. Ah young love. Aurora, is of course confused, but after a while she is resigned to her situation. And then they fall in love.
Passengers is far and away one of the least interesting films in theaters right now. Because although Jim does agonize over the decision to wake Aurora up, and he does express genuine regret after doing so, the movie doesn’t have the stones to really tackle the ethical dilemma it proposes.
The director, Morten Tyldum, manages to take Pratt and Lawrence and completely strip them of anything resembling humanity. He’s replaced their emotions with overbearing musical cues. The movie’s score almost never shuts ups. It’s a shrill redundant beast that stamps out any glint of emotional resonance. This movie is pure noise and dullness. Nothing works. Lawrence and Pratt have zero chemistry. The movie just lays there on screen, glassy-eyed and shiny.
There are sparks of life and real emotion in the movie. For instance, in a scene late in the movie where Aurora finds out what Jim has done; she breaks into his room and beats him. The scene is dark and truthful as Aurora is nothing but fury and confusion. Jim, for his part, lays there, looks at her, and submits. It’s an emotionally potent and complex scene. Which makes it all the more irritating when the movie goes back to being a predictable bland ‘problems on a luxury liner in space’ story. Then the movie teases us again with the introduction of Captain Gus (Laurence Fishburne).
Fishburne’s performance so outshines Lawrence and Pratt we’re left wondering why he couldn’t switch roles with Pratt. His mere presence in Passengers makes the movie bearable for those precious few minutes that’s he’s there.
The movie ends in that Hollywood way where everything goes wrong but thank God we have plucky Jim to save the day. The climax is filled with near misses, explosions, giant emotional declarations, and great sacrifice. I can’t remember the last time I was so glad a movie was over.
Passengers is a slickly made movie, with talented stars who have no business acting off each other. It’s a movie that can’t get out of its own way. This movie stinks. It stinks in the worst way. It stinks in a way that you can clearly see a good movie here, but it’s been so over-produced and so over-written anything salvageable has been tossed aside. Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, and Laurence Fishburne deserve better. For that matter so do we.