Morten Tyldum, director
Jon Spaihts, script
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Aurora), Chris Pratt (Jim), Michael Sheen (Arthur), Laurence Fishburne (Gus)
With the appearance of Passengers and Arrival, we’re seeing Hollywood’s response to the success of Gravity. As a science fiction geek when I was an adolescent, it’s nice to see intelligent sci-fi films show up as a potential blockbusters. Arrival has exceeded expectations, garnering favourable reviews and excellent box-office results, which I feared would not happen.
How will Passengers do? On the plus side, just as Gravity starred Sandra Bullock and Arrival, Amy Adams, Passengers has box office queen Jennifer Lawrence as the lead. (Or at least nominal lead—it’s actually Chris Pratt’s movie for the first half of the film.) There’s a unique premise, which has made the film far more problematic than the filmmakers probably intended. And there’s action galore but only at the ending, which mirrors Gravity and Arrival to some extent.
If you’re getting that Passengers, despite some pluses, including a great supporting acting turn by Michael Sheen as an android named Arthur, has insurmountable problems, that is correct. Let’s go back to the premise because that’s where the difficulty lies. And—watch out—here’s a spoiler alert because you can’t write about Passengers without discussing its major plot device and consequences.
In Passengers, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are two of 5000 “sleepers” on a massive rocket ship, which will deliver them to Homestead Two, a Garden of Eden planet 130 years away from the overly populated, overly expensive Earth. (Think—Toronto today). A meteor shower and a collision actually dents the ship, awakening one of the sleepers after 40 years. Jim (Chris Pratt), a handsome hunk of an engineer slowly realizes that he’s alone and will die a solitary death on the rocket ship.
His only company is Arthur, a great bartender, who has a wonderful personality for an android. Jim drinks, plays basketball and tries everything to figure out how to put himself back into hibernation. Nothing works. With all the time in the world, he sees in one of the pods a gorgeous girl, whose autobiographical videos reveal her to be a Brooklyn writer named Aurora. Yep, it’s JLaw.
What should Pratt’s Jim do? He’s fallen in love with the sleeping beauty and is going crazy alone. After a lot of painful indecisive moments, he finally arranges to wake her up and then pretends to meet her the next day. Slowly, the two fall in love. After all, they’re gorgeous even though not exactly evenly matched culturally.
While watching this section of the film, you know that Lawrence’s Aurora has to find out what Pratt’s Jim did. Effectively, it’s murder. One could also call it rape because unless Jim looked or acted awful, the two were bound to become a couple. This is the moral dilemma of the film and it’s a biggie. Can Aurora excuse the inexcusable? The script, to mix metaphors, has painted the film into a corner.
When the inevitable occurs, the film has nowhere else to go. JLaw gets angry, has nothing to do with Jim—until a “deus ex machina” (absolutely!) occurs. Another passenger awakes, a crew hand, who figures out that the ship is actually in critical condition and needs to be fixed. Then, the crew hand dies, leaving Jim and Aurora to save the day.
Passengers has much to recommend it. Pratt and Lawrence are fine as the leads though there appears to be little combustible romantic chemistry between them. Sheen is superb. The sets are fine and there are some brief moments of sardonic comedy involving Pratt—who discovers that his complaint to Earth about being awakened will be replied to in 55 years—that are funny and dark.
But there’s no doubt that Passengers needed a better script to resolve its intriguing set-up. Watchable? The film is definitely that. Recommendable? Perhaps not.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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