Passengers – Film Review

This movie copped a massive backlash upon its release last year, and in all honesty it was practically asking for it, with its grossly misleading trailers and advertising which treated its premise as a twist and in the end made some viewers feel like they received a pretty glittery gift box with a dead puppy inside.

Here’s what the bullshit summary on my DVD rental reads like:

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two passengers onboard a spaceship transporting them to a new life on another planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when their hibernation pods mysteriously wake them 90 years before they reach their destination. As Jim and Aurora try to unravel the mystery behind the malfunction, they begin to fall for each other, unable to deny their intense attraction… only to be threatened by the imminent collapse of the ship and the discovery of the truth behind why they woke up.

Here’s what actually happens in the film (spoilers ahead):

Chris Pratt is a passenger onboard a spaceship transporting him to a new life on another planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when his hibernation pod wakes him 90 years before he reaches his destination. When, after a year on his own, the crushing solitude becomes too much for Jim to the point of considering suicide, he deliberately wakes another passenger, a beautiful writer called Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), who he develops a crush on after watching her passenger profile. As Aurora and Jim get it on and live in romantic bliss, it’s only a matter of time before the truth behind her malfunctioning pod comes out. But not to worry, there’s nothing like an imminent collapse of the ship to bring the star-crossed lovers together again.

It’s no surprise that the studio made an effort to obscure the real story and its lead hero’s morally iffy decision to drag a fellow passenger down with him, while trying to sell a shiny sci-fi romance starring two of Hollywood’s most photogenic and adorable leads. It’s also no surprise that this foundation for romance left a bad taste in many critics’ mouths. The frustrating thing is, Jim’s moral dilemma is actually genuinely interesting and thought-provoking, and the first, best third of the film does a great job conveying the horror of his situation. What would any of us do, trapped on a lonely interstellar voyage until the end of our days, with the cure for solitude so tantalisingly close by? It’s a fascinating question and the genre of science fiction is the prime ground for exploring it.

To the movie’s credit, Passengers doesn’t entirely gloss over the wrongness of Jim’s action. Unfortunately, it’s also intent on treating it as a mere obstacle to his and Aurora’s romance, in the way of romcoms where a couple must part midway for whatever reason, only to be reunited in the finale through some contrivance. As a result, the movie is rendered bland and mostly forgettable, culminating with a burst of generic action sequences and one eye-rolling cliché after next. It also wastes a few other promising ideas, like a theme of corporate greed and the class difference between Jim and Aurora: he’s steerage riffraff who can only get a generic black coffee to drink at breakfast, she’s a premium passenger with the ship as her oyster. I guess they really wanted this to be Titanic in Space?

Despite being overall disappointing for its wasted potential, the film is still watchable thanks to its appealing leads, who both put in good performances and have a decent romantic chemistry. The ever-dependable Michael Sheen is also amusing as the ship’s impeccably polite and dapper android bartender. The real star of the film however is the ship’s interior, with its elegant, sleek but not soulless futuristic design and fun facilities that the film is more than happy to show off. While the action scenes are mostly nothing to write home about, one exception is a visually striking sequence in which Aurora is trapped in a giant shimmering water bubble, when the gravity control fails inside the ship’s swimming pool. Passengers is not a total write-off, but man they really should have made up their minds on what kind of movie they were doing.

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