You’ve been woken up from your cryopod 90 years early on a 120 year journey from Earth to the distant colony world of Homestead II. And you’re alone. No crew, and none of the other 5,000 passengers on the spaceship are conscious. What do you do?
Denver-based mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is the only conscious person on the massive deep space ship and he has no idea why his pod decided it was time for him to regain consciousness. After the initial shock, his friendly robot bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) offers him a whiskey and some advice: don’t pine for what could be, get the most out of your now. Preston does, spending months exploring the ship, honing his dance and basketball skills, and gradually losing hope as he realizes that however he fills the time, he’s doomed to be alone, surrounded by sleeping fellow passengers.
Just as it all seems too much for him, he gazes into a cryopod and falls in love with the sleeping beauty Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Reading up on her history he finds out that she’s a writer and, like him, is drawn to the grand adventure of helping colonize Homestead II. He can wake her up, but should he? 90 years from their destination, resuscitating her up is also sentencing her to die before the journey is completed.
Passengers is really about this provocative moral dilemma: are your needs more important than someone else’s rights? If you’ve seen the movie poster or a trailer, you know what decision he makes, and soon he and Aurora are having lots of fun exploring the ship together. Until she finds out that the story of her pod reviving her might not be quite accurate, that is.
And then there’s the ship, which is suffering from more and more weird glitches, with elevators failing, room software requiring random restarts, the gravity system turning on and off, and more. Out of nowhere ship’s deck officer Gus Mancusco (Laurence Fishburne) show’s up: he’s also awoken from a faulty cryopod. Fortunately as crew he knows the ship and starts to diagnose the problems, realizing that if it’s not fixed, the entire ship could have a catastrophic failure and be destroyed.
There’s little that’s not predictable about Passengers, and even at this point in the storyline, I bet you can guess the outcome of the crisis and who makes it to the romantic, albeit half-baked ending. Thing of it is, while Passengers was predictable and definitely had some narrative and editing problems, it was also quite enjoyable and worth watching.
In fact, it was so predictable, I kept waiting for a big reveal. One of the characters could have been a robot, there could have been holograms involved, it could have all been a psychological test pre-takeoff, or something similar. Unusual for this genre, there was nothing surprising and no big reveal. Which begs the question of whether there was one in the original script and part of the sloppy ending is that it was yanked at the last minute.
Still, one big reason it’s so watchable is that the visual effects are excellent. The entire story takes place on the spaceship and it’s wonderfully realized by director Morten Tyldum. There’s an ethereal quality to the massive cafeteria with its class-based food dispensing machines (Preston is in the cheap cabin while Lane is in a suite, so she has far better food dispensed) and long, long corridors that circle the ship. The Grand Concourse is very reminiscent of a cruise ship — shades of The Starship Titanic, as is robo-bartender Arthur — and it’s all good.
The last ten minutes of the film are a mess, however, so be prepared for the narrative to fall apart. It seems like they ran out of budget or time for the production, but the ending falls completely flat for such a big, albeit predictable story arc. And, notably, the transition from the last scene to the end titles is exceptionally jarring. I’m a big fan of cinematic scores and pay attention to how music helps set and define a scene, but the closing credit music is wildly inappropriate and it’s hard to believe that this last transition wasn’t fixed before release.
I also had a problem with Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as writer Aurora Lane. She’s just not a very good actor, and while Pratt and Fishburne weren’t delivering their best performances, Lawrence seems to have two notes to her repertoire: slack-faced and upset. It would have been interesting to see this film made with two really strong actors who were perhaps less beautiful — Lawrence and Pratt are both excellent eye candy — but better able to convey the wide range of emotions one would have trapped in a gradually failing spaceship decades from help.
A lot of critics have come out hating this movie, and the timing of its release is pretty awful, a science fiction film going against the blockbuster Rogue One, but Passengers deserves a viewing, if only for the visual effects and realization of a long-haul spaceship. Oh, and since it’s muchly a romance, it’s a great date movie too, with action and the sci-fi element for one of you and the love story for the other.