by Michael B. Hock
On paper, it’s a slam dunk: Take two of the hottest movie stars on the planet, put them in a movie that is primarily the two of them falling in love, add a little Michael Sheen for comic relief, and a dash of some of that space-danger that raises the stakes and makes their love that much more interesting… boom. You should have a wonderful movie that makes money based on the poster alone.
And yet, Passengers manages to mess this up.
Quick note, yet again, I’ll be discussing “the plot of the movie” and I know people will consider what I’m revealing as a spoiler so… this is your warning, as well as my reminder that not everything that happens is a twist.
Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (after Sleeping Beauty… get it? GET IT? Jennifer Lawrence.) are Passengers (I get it) on an ultra luxury type space vessel out to colonize a brand new world because Earth is all colonized, so they might as well set up a new one. Because it will take a mere 120 years to get to the new planet, everyone is put in ultra-fail safe hibernation pods. I say “ultra-fail safe” because later, when the pods belonging to Jim and random crew member played by Laurence Fishburne malfunction, the first line is that they don’t break, and despite that there are robots all over the ship that fix everything, none of them see fit to monitor the life-giving pods that prevent humans from dying.
After a chance encounter with an asteroid field, Jim’s pod manages to malfunction, stranding him on board the space ship alone for a year. Faced with dying by himself, he eventually falls in love with Aurora and decides to wake her up. Together, they have to figure out why the ship is malfunctioning, and eventually find love, maybe? If there’s time. There might be time for that.
Passengers is an interesting exploration of loneliness, or it might have been had someone not looked at their watch and realized they also cast Jennifer Lawrence in this thing, and they should probably have her appear on screen to maximize the Jennifer Lawrence-ness in the movie. The initial idea: Jim, an engineer, stranded on this ship with no one to talk to, no ability to reach Earth, and with valuable resources hidden behind frustrating computer systems, is an interesting one. What would it be like to be stranded in paradise, but you can’t really access a good portion of it? What would it be like to be stranded in paradise, but you’re alone? These are good ideas, and they would be an interesting exploration of a man slowly breaking.
The problem is when Jim decides to wake Aurora up, condemning her to his life of slowly dying in a metal tube. It’s presented as an act of desperation, but the thing is we are never really given an opportunity to experience that time with Jim. We get the montage of Jim doing all there is to do on the ship, making the most of his experience as his electronic bartender says. But the scenes of Jim enjoying life as a lone survivor snaps too quickly into Jim as a desperate man. And if anyone could sell us on the idea of waking up Aurora, it would be Chris Pratt who has a charm to him. A lot of people forget that he started out as the lazy, sort of a dick boyfriend of Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation. He stayed despite the fact that his first story arc was pretending his legs were broken so he didn’t have to work, by the end of it we were rooting for him. He could have convinced us that he had to wake up Aurora, but we don’t get it, and we’re sort of stuck for the rest of the movie waiting of that uncomfortable moment when she finds out.
Jennifer Lawrence does well as Aurora, a writer who wants to see the colonies, then return to find a new Earth over 250 years older than when she left, preferably not ruled by Apes or Immortan Joe. Her best scenes are those where she is fighting back against the man that essentially kidnapped her, and deprived her of her dream of seeing the colonies then returning to the world. Again, all of these moments are quick, we go from the wacky love montage to rage to her deciding that maybe he’s not all bad. It’s presented as a sweet love story, but it comes off as a little uncomfortable at times.
The bottom line is that this movie is rushed. That’s the best word for it. It could have been a story about a man that does a horrible thing out of desperation, then seeks redemption, but everything in it is rushed to get to the next scene. So much is left unexplored, for instance Jim is stuck eating basic meals while Aurora is apparently higher class and can afford other things like eggs. What’s up with that?
In addition, there’s the added mystery of the ever growing problems with the ship, which brings it’s own questions.
This Homestead Company is going to make a bazillion dollars from this journey, wouldn’t they want to make it a little safer? Maybe have a crew member wake up every few years to make sure the ship isn’t falling apart and isn’t going to kill all the paying members that presumably are rich enough to afford a trip to the very expensive trip to this colony planet, and thus have family members that are presumably rich enough to sue? I mean, it’s not ideal, but just make sure that there’s not a ship full of corpses corpsing along to a new planet? And I realize the faith in these pods is 100%, but two fail in this movie. Two. That doesn’t include the rather easy sabotage of Aurora’s.
Passengers isn’t a bad movie, it’s a frustrating movie. It’s one that could have easily been a sweet love story set in a space, but it tries to rush from one scene to the next like an excited puppy.
Hamlet T. Wondercat Says
Out of Five