Passengers (2016)

Every Moment Counts

I’m kinda rooting for the film Passengers. It’s an original genre flick that’s out to prove that sheer star power can still draw the masses to a theater, the sci-fi romance starring two of today’s hottest talents, Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). We all know that folks love reading about the pair in the tabloids and whatnot but how many of us would actually venture out (be it rain hail or shine) and fork out hard-earned money to see the couple together on-screen?

First thing’s first, although Passengers is being advertised as ‘two sexy stars getting astro-naughty,’ à la Titanic (1997) meets Gravity (2013), the film’s marketing material (including its press notes) have been skewed in a very misleading manner, emitting one important detail from the film’s general premise. Yes, Passengers wants viewers to believe in the power of gooey love and that its mushy clout can triumph over any adversity, but the narrative harbors a much bleaker undertone. So, in light of this revelation, those wishing to avoid any kind of spoilers should scroll down to the final paragraph — actually scratch that, maybe just avoid this write-up altogether.

'Anything is a toy if you play with it.'
‘Anything is a toy if you play with it.’

Written by Jon Spaihts, Prometheus (2012), Passengers more or less follows your traditional three-act structure. The first mainly focuses on mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), one of 5,000 passengers (and 200 odd crew members) traveling in hypersleep aboard the Avalon, a luxury cruise liner rocketing through the stars, in the midst of a 120-year journey to a colonized planet named Homestead II, the vessel transporting those wealthy enough to afford a ticket to a new beginning, away from an overcrowded and overpriced Earth. However, 30 years into the expedition, Jim is awoken by a meteor malfunction, his hibernation pod opening 90 years ahead of schedule.

Realizing that he’s all by his lonesome, seemingly doomed to draw his last breath before reaching the ‘promised land,’ Jim spends the initial portion of the picture adjusting to the solidarity of life on the Avalon, learning more about the ultra-automated craft in the process, investigating its abandoned recreation rooms, extravagant hotels and restaurants, his only companion Arthur (Michael Sheen), an android bartender with a human-looking upper half. To his credit, Pratt does his best Tom Hanks from Cast Away (2000) — complete with a ‘shaggy’ fake-looking, unflattering beard — the former Parks and Recreation (2009) star sustaining our attention when he’s the only person occupying the screen.

'Is there food here?'
‘Is there food here?’

The second stretch of the pic takes place after about a year or so, when the isolated Jim notices a ‘sleeping beauty’ in one of the pods, her name Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Going all Facebook-stalker-ish, Jim watches her profile videos whilst going through his repetitive routine — ingesting the same bland cereal he’s been having on a daily basis — learning more and more about the striking stiff in the process, who he finds out is a New York journalist hoping to become the first person in human history to make a round trip from Earth to Homestead II, then back again — Aurora planning to return to her home after spending some time in the newly populated world.

Completely infatuated by Aurora and convinced that he’s in love, a now suicidal Jim begins to wrestle with his moral compass. It’s here that Passengers delivers its most compelling element with Jim basically contemplating an impossible decision (that isn’t made lightly), and that is, whether he should end his life or his loneliness, the picture essentially posing the same question to its audience, asking, ‘what would you have done if placed in Jim’s shoes?’ Is this the best subtext to be exploring in a romance film? Probably not — but more on this later.

'Guess what I made for dinner? Reservations.'
‘Guess what I made for dinner? Reservations.’

Be that as it may, Jim (being a hands-on kinda guy) tinkers with his dream girl’s hibernation pod until it opens, the smitin’ spaceman lying to the horrified Aurora about her sudden awakening, blaming it on equipment failure as opposed to sabotage. Understandably distraught — what, knowing that she may very well grow old and die on the cavernous shuttle — Aurora attempts to re-enter her pod, only to fail, like Jim before her. Feeling a little empathetic towards her companion (since he had been trapped in the ship for over a year), Aurora begins to accept her situation, writing a book about her experiences and eventually falling for her dewy-eyed mate.

As a budding romance develops between Mr. Fix-It and the gorgeous journo — the couple enjoying some fine dining, along with fancy drinks, silly dancing and tethered walks in outer space — poor ‘ol Aurora is left in the dark, completely unaware that Jim has robbed her of her future by waking her prematurely, sentencing her to death beyond the stars. Thankfully, Pratt and Lawrence share amazing chemistry together, the duo selling their connection whilst hitting it off in all of their rom-com moments, even if the overall scenario might leave some feeling a little uncomfortable.

Hooked on a Feeling
Hooked on a Feeling

The narrative gets more interesting (and even quite bleak) at the start of its third portion, when Aurora discovers the truth behind her untimely waking, naturally shunning Jim and lashing out later with her fists. At this point it would have been great to see Passengers delve into darker territory, surveying our character’s headspaces as they’re forced to co-exist together on the unoccupied craft, the film looking at the ramifications of Jim’s debatable actions. Instead of exploring its ethical questions or even the limits of pity, Passengers marches on with the arrival of a third commuter in the form of Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a Chief Deck Officer who informs the pair that the Avalon has been compromised, the trio required to figure out what went wrong and repair it — the film finishing off with a conventional final act that’s too conveniently resolved.

Throughout the entire odyssey Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game (2014), stages some eye-popping set pieces — the highlight, a spectacular sequence that sees gravity fail whilst Aurora is doing laps in an elaborate pool, the water levitating and Ms. Lane almost drowning as a result. Likewise, the first-rate production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas, Inception (2010), is sleek and shiny, the Avalon a polished maze of deluxe rooms and swanky quarters — from the sprawling Grand Concourse to its dazzling period-style bar — the ship’s exterior resembling a massive rotating drill that’s piercing the heavens.

Uh-oh ... J-law's in deep water!
Uh-oh … J-law’s in deep water!

Finishing on a frustrating yet overly saccharine note, one that sees Aurora ‘choose’ to live out the rest of her days with her ‘captor’ rather than being put back to bed — think of it as Stockholm syndrome, in space — the flick closes with a confused captain (a wordless Andy García) finding his vessel transformed into a galactic farmyard. While sure, Passengers gives its most noteworthy idea too little consideration but the film remains constantly engaging (thanks to its top billing stars), the voyage offering viewers some interesting food for thought and perhaps something to talk about after. Hey, at least it’s unique!

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Passengers is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia