Few films released in 2016 were as frustrating as Passengers. Part would-be space romance, part creepy tale of unchecked obsession, this big budget piece of flawed science fiction manages to sully the otherwise flawless filmographies of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence without delivering a single memorable moment. It’s a missed opportunity if there ever was one, and I imagine it won’t be too long before Morten Tyldum’s latest work is forgotten altogether.
Set in the not so distant future, Passengers tells of a ship hurtling through space with more than 5,000 people on board. Every person on the ship is assigned a hibernation pod that will keep them asleep and prevent aging while the ship makes its 120-year voyage between planets. Nothing has ever gone wrong on a trip like this before, but at the top of the film a lone passenger, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), wakes up roughly 90 years too soon.
Life alone in deep space is hard on Jim. After coming to terms with the fact that he will die before anyone even knows he is awake, Jim sets to solving his problem, but his numerous attempts to fix the broken hibernation pod provide no resolution. His fate is sealed, more or less, and the idea of living out his days in isolation are enough to push Jim to the edge.
Just when all hope seems lost he stumbles across a beautiful woman named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and becomes infatuated with her life. Jim quickly learns she is an author, and through use of social media begins to believe she is his perfect match. He briefly weighs the pros and cons of interrupting her scientifically-induced slumber before deciding to wake her so that he is no longer alone. This of course means that Aurora will also die before the rest of the ship knows what happened to her, but hey—at least Jim can have someone in his life, right?
The bulk of Passengers revolves around the relationship that develops between Jim and Aurora during their time alone in space. The secret to Aurora’s awakening, which is no secret to the viewer, is kept in the background until the third act demands something exciting actually happen in the story. The revelation leads to several predictably argumentative encounters between the leads, but all that emotional tension is quickly lost when the ship itself becomes damaged. Then, when faced with working together or dying alongside everyone who is still asleep, Jim and Aurora find some semblance of peace.
The thirty minutes prior to Aurora’s dedication are actually quite good, if only because they feel like a very truncated version of Cast Away in space. I would have much rather watched a feature-length version of that idea than what we are actually given.
Pratt delivers a perfectly fine performance, as does Lawrence, but there is never a clear reason why either one would take on a film as flimsy and lackluster as this beyond it being an excuse for both to make a nice cash grab in between other, perhaps even bigger projects. The only thing either are offered here that cannot be found in their other projects is a brief sex montage that is neither revealing nor necessary for the story.
Passengers boasts a $110m production budget, and to its credit every cent is on the screen. The set design and CGI-heavy space sequences are both stunning and vividly imagined. The ship itself is a small triumph, and had the plot made better use of it the average viewer would likely develop a deep appreciation for its craftsmanship. It’s either welcoming or haunting depending on your perspective, but because of how it is treated even the most interesting sights never feel all that tactile.
It took almost a decade for Passengers to get made, and when you see the final product you have to ask why no one listened to the first person who said it would never work. The film twists the story of a man driven crazy from isolation into a deeply flawed space romance that wastes its big reveal on melodramatic dialogue and a lackluster buildup. With two of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the lead roles it is guaranteed to sell tickets and move a lot of rentals despite what I or anyone else says, and to see that kind of influence wasted on something so infuriatingly mediocre as this movie is just heartbreaking. There is a good movie in here somewhere, maybe, but it is not found in the final cut.