Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction, Fantasy.
Director: Morten Tyldum
Running time: 116 minutes
Verdict: A corny, smooth sci-fi ride made watchable by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishbourne.
Plot: The starship Avalon is transporting over 5,000 colonists and crew in hibernation pods to the planet Homestead II, a journey taking 120 years. Thirty years into its journey, the ship encounters an asteroid belt, during which time the ship suffers a mechanical failure.The malfunction awakens one passenger, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), 90 years too early.
Passengers is one of those movies that leaves you unsatisfied after seeing it. You’re left feeling weird and you hardly reflect on the movie itself and then there are so many questions (what if……?) that you ask yourself concerning the movie’s plot. You even go as far as trying to fill in the blanks that you feel are present.
Passengers is the story of intergalactic travel and romance between two passengers on a spacecraft- Avalon (a broken DNA strand/Helix-looking starship). Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanical engineer is woken up from his suspended animation and hibernation when the spaceship enters a meteor shower and gets hit by a huge meteor fragment in transit on a 120-year intergalactic journey from Earth to a new planet, Homestead II carrying 5258 colonists – passengers and crew members. Jim soon discovers that he awoke from hibernation 90 years too early due to a computer malfunction and that he’s all alone in the middle of space with no human interaction and pending imminent death without ever reaching the designated planet.
In full panic mode, Jim tries everything to get back in hibernation mode. He tries to fix his cryopod so that he can go back to sleep but he fails at this and he cannot reach any crew member because he needs superior level clearance ID to do so. Soon coming to terms with his lonely life on Avalon, he indulges in the available facilities for entertainment- playing virtual games and he makes a friend out of the cheery android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen).
A year goes by and his life is exactly the same, with a grown beard and suicidal thoughts. He sets his eyes on a “sleeping beauty” (minding her own sleep in her own pod)- Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), an ambitious journalist/writer from New York. He looks her up on the computer, and he starts to read all her works, watch her application videos for the Homestead programme and eat breakfast by her pod while falling in love with her — OK, at this point it feels weird and awkward, I mean he is being borderline creepy. It is so creepy that it doesn’t feel romantic but like some sort of obsession and some sort of sickness- love? Who knows. After what seems to be quite an unconvincing short battle with his conscience on whether to wake her up or not, he does eventually. He wakes her up against everything moral for selfish reasons and dooms her to his exact same fate- life and death on an empty spaceship before reaching their destination.
At this point in the movie, writer John Spaihts decides to draw us away from the “Sci-Fi’ness”of the movie (not that there’s much anyway) and throws in what I call a tale of Adam and Eve. A classic love story of 2 lonely people who fall for each other.
Pretending that her interrupted hibernation was an accident, he commiserates with her when she finds out she’s woken too early and he pretends to give her space and cultivate their friendship. Aurora not happy with what’s going on soon sees that not much can be done and begins a mutual relationship and romance with Jim. Preston’s actions might be understandable, in the circumstances, but they are certainly not excusable. The film does little to deplore Jim’s choices and to examine the level of desperation and depravity, instead it goes ahead to play out a classic Hollywood love story. With little or no character build up around these two characters, it’s safe to say that writer John Spaihts was relying on the awesomeness that is both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as actors but even they couldn’t save this film’s plot. The chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence is fresh but doesn’t strike a balance. The moral dilemma is brushed aside, and at times left to function as the regulation obstacle to the couple’s blossoming relationship than a moral and humane issue to be explored in its own right.
Soon this budding romance comes crashing down when Aurora discovers she was woken by Jim and not by accident, they avoid each other- Aurora taking laps around the ship and Jim entering full engineer-mode and finding things to fix, create or plant and the rest is history. Unknown to these lovers all along, the spaceship’s systems had been failing which makes me think- Jim’s the engineer, he sees the robots malfunctioning, why isn’t he questioning their malfunction or doing anything about it. It takes another figure to come into the picture before things begin to look really bad. Deck chief and crew member (Laurence Fishbourne) thrust awake from hibernation failure as well, is bent on looking for the source of the problem, we soon discover how sick he is with just few hours left to live he gives some advice on finding the problem and fixing the craft’s nuclear core, and other stuff.
The first almost 90 minutes of the film is discarded for a ‘bigger’ problem at hand, which is saving the ship from exploding. The about-to-explode ship suddenly changes everything between the pair. Aurora’s justified hatred is belittled almost like a mood swing, thrown aside. With the ship now in full failure mood and about to explode, Aurora and Jim work together, engaging in finding replacement parts and fixing everything fixable, complete with flying bolts and various sacrifices being proposed and made to keep the ship from exploding, this is where the fimmakers seem to get the idea of redeeming Jim (which I found really cheesy). Jim goes out of the ship to open the trapped door to the reactor where the source of the problem resides but he’s faced with the decision to sacrifice himself for everyone and everything on the ship “I have to hold the door open” he says………….. Aurora later replies “if you die, I die” with Jim telling her “there are 5000 other people on the ship Aurora, we have to do this” and we see the sacrificial scene play out, shifting gears and turning the last 30 minutes of this film into a disaster-action Sci-fi drama.
Jennifer Lawrence does a great job of showing the horror of finding out Jim woke her up. She masters every light or heavy scene with the kind of performance expected of an Academy Award winner, Chris Pratt does a fine job of playing the lovable scruffy looking engineer, even with the weight of his selfish decision hanging in the air. Casting Pratt was a good choice in a way because we are expected to not feel contempt towards this imperfect perpetrator of selfishness as he is just another person banished to a life he didn’t ask for. His hard-to-shed image of a lovable oaf matures into that of a lovable hottie, as it is very difficult to hate the person that is Chris Pratt but despite this difficulty it’s hard to look past the decisions of the character he plays and not hate him.
In the played out sequence of the “Rom-Drama,” Aurora falls for Jim, finds out the truth, get angry and avoids Jim and falls back in love with him after his sacrifice. When given the choice to return to sleep- (the medical-scanner pod in the infirmary) she insists on staying with him. The woman abandons her hopes, plans and future to live out the rest of her days with him- (here, I paused and thought..Oh well she’s a big girl. She has made her decision).
Let’s be sincere here, in another universe, the plot might have been made more palatable with a well written and fully covered script that raised questions of ethics, morality and gender. Unfortunately, the writing is bad and the script sets out to rehash the plot every few minutes finally turning what’s supposed to be a Sci-fi drama to a failed attempt at a romantic drama. Rather than giving a better understanding to the dynamics of the relationship between this selfish person and his wronged victim who are doomed to live under the same roof until death, we are given the dynamics of the workings of a spaceship, its many technical glitches and a budding love story. But worse awaits, with the starry-eyed pretence that life might magically flourish with only these two to keep each other company (how would just two people survive?! With the same cycle for so long?).
My problem is not with Pratt’s Jim character’s act of selfishness or why he did it-(we clearly know why), or how Aurora was able to live with the knowledge of what he did to her and how she chooses to forgive him-all of which could have made for a better compelling story. The problem is the laziness with which the movie has been wrapped in a sheath of love. The film’s tagline “There is a reason they woke up” now seems so lame. Well, yes there is – but it turns out it’s not something you can really build a movie around except we were talking about the imminent danger of the spacecraft exploding.
“Passengers” strong points include its futuristic production design- the visuals are great and the set design of the starship Avalon is sleek and stunning. The scenery is arresting —a futuristic pristine-like mega mall with state-of-the-art rooms and facilities. And of course, the interstellar setting, gravity-esque space walks and a terrific scene which aptly demonstrates zero gravity. The casting of Jennifer Lawrence against Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishbourne is great. Finally, the experience and effects after watching this movie doesn’t stand anywhere in comparison to the slew of exceptional sci-fi movies like Gravity, Interstellar, or The Martian even. So if you’re interested in a good space and spaceship movie, Those three should do the trick.
Overall rating: 5/10
Just for humour, I’m a Nigerian and the classic way this movie would have played out, if there were two Nigerians and one medical-scanner pod, would be a situation where both Nigerians would both be willing to share the pod for the rest of the journey. Imagining that and the whole drama that would have been around the two is so funny. No one wants to die here. 😀