A surprise contender for ‘Most Divisive Film of 2016’, “Passengers” may not be the sci-fi action thriller the trailers might have led us to expect but there’s still a lot to enjoy in this literal and figurative star vehicle which teams current hot ticket stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.
Aboard the starship Avalon, a sleeper ship on autopilot transporting five thousand colonists on a 120 year journey to start a new life on the planet Homestead II, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes unexpectedly, only thirty years into the voyage. Alone on the ship, he becomes infatuated with a fellow passenger but when mysterious malfunctions begin to plague the ship itself, he faces some difficult choices.
At the core of this film’s mixed reception is an ethical and moral conundrum. At the outset, it seems like the film is going to explore some interesting and complex themes but just at the point of no return, it scrambles back to the narrative safety of cliché. Here’s the thing, though: it does the clichés extremely well.
Director Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) delivers on the big visuals required for this “Titanic”-lite in space drama which is less survival adventure and more ethically compromised love story. Visuals aside, a number of spectacular sci-fi ideas go begging for exploration and expansion but are ultimately neglected in favour of the burgeoning romance between Jim and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) however, because said romance starts under the cloud of such a grotesque act of deception it never quite sits right, no matter how much you’re rooting for them as a couple.
Just how much you’re rooting for them as a couple may vary too. Individually, Pratt and Lawrence are likeable screen presences and its more an accumulation of their individual likeability than any genuine chemistry which keeps things on track. Performance-wise, neither is stretched by the script although Lawrence gets to do her hoarse-voiced angry despair act once more. Breaking up the potential monotony of two pretty people either getting it on or not getting on is Michael Sheen as android bartender Arthur, a character which – like the film itself – hints at being darker than he ends up being.
The ending too is frustratingly pat and very abrupt considering everything that’s come before but as a straight survival in space adventure, “Passengers” is pretty enjoyable even if it really can’t get past the moral failing of its main character, no matter how hard it tries to gloss over it. Despite all its flaws, though, I rather enjoyed it and I suspect it has a solid future as a Bank Holiday disaster movie mainstay; a 21st Century “Poseidon Adventure”.