If you’re going to drop a sci-fi movie in late December and it’s directed by the guy who made The Imitation Game and stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) and Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy), you would expect a lot, right? I mean, I certainly would. On paper, Passengers has all the makings of a star-powered vehicle that would cash in around the holidays and even generate some awards buzz. Unfortunately, for Passengers, they didn’t show this movie on paper, because none of the playbook meshes together on screen, and the result is tedious and melodramatic.
On a routine journey through space to a new home, two passengers, sleeping in suspended animation, are awakened 90 years too early when their ship malfunctions. As Jim and Aurora face living the rest of their lives on board, with every luxury they could ever ask for, they begin to fall for each other, unable to deny their intense attraction… until they discover the ship is in grave danger. With the lives of 5000 sleeping passengers at stake, only Jim and Aurora can save them all.
The spectacle of being in space isn’t enough to prevent the boredom, as the characters merely go through the same motions as any one of us might if we were left in the same predicament. What sounded like a great project when production on the movie began in September 2015 resulted in one of the most regrettable movies of the year.
Initial trailers and promotional material have indicated that Passengers was going to be this epic sci-fi story about two people who wake up early on a ship that isn’t supposed to reach its destination for 90 years, encounter problems aboard the space vessel, and do so while falling for each other. Well, to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, that is not the movie you’re going to get here. In fact, the story itself is actually somewhat dark. Sure, you understand why things happen the way they do in the first 30 minutes of the movie. The creepiness lingers on even after the wheels (or space jets here, perhaps?) are set in motion when Lawrence and Pratt’s characters come into contact with each other. But after that first interaction, nothing generally exciting happens. Sure, there are a couple of twists and a few cool visual shots here and there, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and it’s not enough to keep things afloat in space, and the end result is predictable and boring.
I love both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. I enjoyed Lawrence in The Hunger Games, which is the only young adult movie franchise in recent memory that is even considerably good. And with Pratt, I enjoyed his days on Parks and Recreation long before he found stardom on the big screen. But coming together in Passengers, I didn’t feel much of their chemistry when they were thrown together inside a spacious vessel carrying over five thousand people to a distant colonized planet. It’s not to say that their performances are inadequate, but they feel “paint-by-the-numbers.” Surprisingly, however, the best performance in Passengers comes Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon), who is delightful as a robot bartender. It also doesn’t help that the script the cast was given isn’t, to put it plainly, very good. Ironically, for a movie about space travel, Jon Spaihts’ (Prometheus) script is not exactly out of this world.
Some of the conversations between Lawrence and Pratt are stale and feel like something out of a wannabe NBC half-hour sitcom that was cancelled after six episodes. I understand that Passengers is supposed to show us what it feels like to be lonely aboard a spaceship light years away from earth, but it feels sluggish and now we know why the movie was in development hell for almost a decade. Personally, I think Passengers would have worked better as a comedy with two well-known comedic actors encountering all the ship’s problems while also dealing with the creepiness of one of the character’s motives. Sure, it could have had some dramatic moments where the characters got close, but at least it would have been more entertaining (and funnier) than what actually happens in Passengers.
As far as visual effects go, they are passable. The interior of the space vessel looks polished, as many of the set pieces in the ship’s various, spacious rooms are given great detail to show us what it would be like if all of the passengers aboard the ship were awake and moving around. One scene in particular that features a pool and the loss of gravity really stands out. But the exterior of the vessel is hit-or-miss when things go awry around the ship. For a movie that spent 10 months in post-production, I expected the visual effects in the movie’s money shots to be spot on.
If you’re looking for a love story this holiday season, La La Land is a must-see because it gives you so much to love and appreciate. Passengers, on the other hand, feels watchable only if it popped up on your Netflix queue and you had nothing else to watch/binge. Passengers is all the more frustrating considering that Lawrence and Pratt are up-and-coming A-list stars in Hollywood (if they aren’t already). Passengers commits the unpardonable sin for movies and books: I just didn’t care for their characters and what happened to them. Passengers’ tagline is, “There is a reason they woke up.” Well, that reason wasn’t enough to make a two-hour movie no matter whom you put in it.