“You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are.”
The subtitle for this review could be ‘when bad movies happen to good actors’ or ‘when the trailer pitches a very different movie’. Either would accurately reflect the experience of watching ‘Passengers’. The film is overly reliant on the charm of both leads – Pratt & Lawrence work their socks off to sell the film. With two lesser actors or less charismatic leads the film would be even more mediocre. Then there’s the fact the film is being sold as either a big action sci-fi disaster movie – where the duo have to save the ship from disaster – or as a science fiction romance. It is neither of those things. Whilst these two elements feature they are immensely distilled and end up being secondary to the plot twist that isn’t really a plot twist that is hidden from the trailers.
(Do not continue if you don’t want to read spoilers…)
We’re not talking an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist here (as discussed in this review of ‘The Visit’) where a game-changing revelation is dropped in during the last few minutes. It’s an early plot twist and one that has humongous moral issues that the film manages to skirt around. During the 120 year journey to a distant colony planet Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up by his faulty hibernation pod. He’s woken up at the thirty year point which means he will live out his years on the ship and die alone before ever making it to the colony. After battling loneliness for a year and briefly contemplating suicide he sees someone he likes the look of, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Aurora’s pod is working perfectly fine but, as Jim is lonely and fancies her, he decides to wake her up. Thus essentially murdering her.
It’s a narrative that leaves a nasty taste and one that lingers over the film. Jim decides not not to tell Aurora that he woke her up, makes android barman Arthur (Michael Sheen) promise not to tell her, and they have a year of happy romance together. Once Aurora is inadvertently informed of the truth, the lesson here being never trust an android, the film dedicates some time to the ‘complex’ moral issues. These are not given enough depth, time or truth. The remainder of the film is dedicated to redeeming Jim – he seemingly sacrifices himself to save Aurora and the 4998 who remain in hibernation. This noble deed makes Aurora realise how much she loves him and that his waking her up is no longer relevant. When then see the ship arriving at its destination accompanied by a seemingly posthumous voice over from Aurora.
There are so many issues here – ranging in importance and seriousness. From a storytelling point of view Jim’s ‘depression’ is not shown with enough depth or believability. To make this montage in any way stirring it would need to be up there with Billy Murray in ‘Groundhog Day’, Sam Rockwell in ‘Moon’ or even Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’. It’s none of these things. This is not really the fault of Chris Pratt but more the lack of direction.
Then there’s the ‘plot twist’ itself. As Aurora says ‘He stole my life on that planet – it amounts to murder.’ I don’t think anyone will question her view on that. However the film could explore this in more detail, examining the view raised by Fishburne’s character that ‘A drowning man will always try to drag you down with him.’ The film seemingly views this as incidental instead focusing on redeeming Jim instead of penalizing him. As a result Aurora is then condemned to being a female character who is a prize or reward for the male character. In this way, for all of the film’s modern special effects, this is a story stuck in the past. This is then renforced by not showing us what happened next – we get a happy ever after message without seeing what actually happened to Jim & Aurora. Were they happy with each other? Did they spend the rest of their days playing wardens to the sleeping masses? Did she completely forgive Jim? Three questions that are far more interesting than most of the film.
‘Passengers’ is the cinematic eqivalent of candy floss – light, forgettable and sickly if you think too much about it.
Dir: Morten Tyldum
Year: 2016 Run time:116 minutes