WARNING THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS THROUGHOUT! SERIOUSLY EVEN THE SYNOPSIS!!
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen
Director: Morten Tyldum
Running Time: 116mins
Synopsis: During a 120 year journey to a new Earth colony in a distant galaxy, the starship Avalon suffers a malfunction leading to the awakening of engineer Jim (Pratt) 90 years too early. Alone and destined to die before anyone wakes up, he makes an awful decision by awakening a fellow passenger Aurora (Lawrence). They fall in love, but his choice will have tragic ramifications.
Due to the marketing Gods deciding to advertise Passengers as a mystery project, means it is hard to properly review this film without spoiling said mystery. It is an odd decision seeing as the revelation is less of a twist and more a vital plot point that affects the entire film. Perhaps the inherent allure of a good mystery was seen to be a key focus in trying to bring the punters in, but thankfully it abandons this notion for more deeper complex ideas. The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum opens with some sterling effect work as we glimpse the giant spaceship Avalon on its century long journey to a new planet. Shiny, sleek and designed to within an inch of its life, the ship is an enthralling creation taking advantage of clever futuristic touches to make it feel sci-fi but very much real. Although the influence of Wall.E is very much felt, from the ship layout, to the numerous hoover bots, and even a romantic scene in space (more on that later). I have to admit I am more partial to the gruff grainy lived in sci-fi ships of Alien or even to a lesser extent the original Star Wars.
Aided by Thomas Newman’s (another Wall.E connection) uniquely evocative score, we see the inner workings of the ship before an unexpected event triggers the awakening of Chris Pratt’s Jim. Stirring in a daze into what he thinks is the last leg of his journey, he soon becomes aware that things may not be as they seem. Realising that he has been awoken 90 years too soon, and will therefore die alone on the ship, Jim falls into a deep depression. Chris Pratt proves just how good he can be here, holding the screen single handedly with a vulnerable charismatic (isn’t he always) performance. His emotional voyage through despair, then a certain joy at being alone, to a breathtakingly hefty beard growth whilst walking in the nude contemplating ending it all, is the strongest part of the film. In a series of conveniences he stumbles upon the hibernation pod of Lawrence’s writer Aurora. Instantly finding himself enraptured by this sleeping beauty, he uses the ships computer to read all about her history, and watch videos of her describing the reasons for making the trip (at this point he very much turns into a stalker but hey he still comes across as lovable). There slowly becomes the niggling thought that he may not have to be alone forever, he could wake her up, but in doing so he would be dooming her to death aboard the ship.
It is a dark and slightly disturbing idea but one borne of loneliness and desperation. In a lot of films this sort of decision could be too much, an unforgivable act of pure selfishness but Pratt and screenwriter Jon Spaihts convey the inner torture this instils in Jim with deft intelligence. The movie doesn’t rush to have him make this choice, in doing so allowing Jim to earn our sympathies. Just ask yourself would you be willing to sacrifice someones life just to have companionship? It is a thoroughly complex and interesting idea. Jim is not alone in deciding this though, he has the ear of the resident bar-tending android played with the dry wit and familiar warmth of Michael Sheen. His attempts to offer comfort and words of wisdom somewhat marred by the restrictions of his programming lead to a number of humorous moments.
There would be no film if Jim did not wake Aurora and so it passes she awakens to the same bemusement and pain that he suffered previously. Fortunately he is on hand to lend a shoulder and comfort her (see what I mean about this being a slightly uncomfortable idea), plus a nice side line in flirtatious interplay. Jennifer Lawrence reminds us all here of just why she is a well regarded performer. Offering up another honest, naturalistic performance. The chemistry between the two is also pretty palpable, with them establishing a playful and captivating banter full of witty asides and loved up gestures like the previously mentioned Wall.E style dance in space. Yes this is a pretty saccharine and cheesely romantic movie but thanks to the two of them it never feels cloying. Although some may have classed this as ‘Titanic in Space’ this is a far more adult and morally grey piece than the childish simplicity of James Cameron’s opus. None more evident than when the inevitable truth comes gushing out. The anger and barely suppressed pain Aurora feels is believable and wholly justified. One scene of physical violence against Jim is hugely effective and filled with loaded power. How the film is going to resolve this outcome is going to be the key to its overall success and in retrospect it is almost unfathomable that any decent ending could’ve been sourced.
Unfortunately and not unexpectedly the outcome they decide on is what lets the film down greatly. Teased throughout with electrical malfunctions and in one well executed beat the loss of gravity during a night time swim resulting in orb like balls of water floating around containing Lawrence’s steadily drowning Aurora. It is apparent that something is seriously wrong with the ship. Add to that the sudden arrival of a third party into the mix and the film loses complete focus on the intriguingly complicated themes prevalent in the first two acts in favour of generic action beats. Of course the ship is badly damaged and will require the efforts of Pratt’s engineer to save the door, and OF COURSE he may need to sacrifice himself in the process, thus reminding Aurora of how much she loves him. It is all a little safe and dull after the low key drama that precedes it. Don’t get me wrong it’s all very exciting and justifies the hefty price tag (well part of that is probably having the two biggest stars in the world too) but it somehow saps the final moments of the required power in a sea of predictability.
As mentioned though I find it hard to think of what would have made a better ending and perhaps it is this fact that caused it to sit on the Black List (Hollywood’s annual list of in demand unproduced scripts) for a long time. It is also tempting to think that perhaps if they had cast two more lesser known actors, and reduced the budget, we may have gotten a brave singular film that was willing to take a few more risks. It is all well and good to start off with big notions of loneliness and love, but if you are not willing to follow these ideas through to a suitably emotional pay off then what’s the point?
Verdict: The first two acts of Passengers is vital challenging material with impeccable production design and a couple of engrossing performances, but it lets itself down with a final act of disappointing cliche.