Directed by Morten Tyldum
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf
It’s astonishing to grasp what Passengers believes to be warm, cuddly entertainment, marching forward with a plot so fundamentally screwy, there’s no star power in the world capable of selling it in any appealing way.
Photo by Columbia Pictures
Passengers isn’t a romance; it’s a serial killer origin story about a selfish oaf who can’t handle alone time.
The Avalon is a massive ship speeding through space on a 120-year journey to a colonized planet owned by a massive corporation. Onboard are 5,000 passengers and over 200 crew members, all in hypersleep for the lengthy odyssey, ready to enjoy the luxury accommodation once the ship is months away from its final destination. Thirty years in, mechanic Jim (Chris Pratt) is awakened by a malfunction, gradually realizing he’s the only one conscious on the Avalon, left to deal with 90 years of solitude.
Unable to fix the situation, Jim utilizes most of what the ship has to offer, including spending time with android bartender Arthur (a scene-stealing Michael Sheen). Driven to depression by his loneliness, Jim decides to wake up writer Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), hoping the stranger will fall in love with him.
Passengers is profoundly creepy, and I don’t think it’s meant to be. The screenplay by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) starts off strong. Exploratory scenes offer a rich sense of discovery, as Jim gets used to his surroundings. But Jim desires a partner during his glacial ride to death, picking Aurora due to her introspective vocation and good looks.
She emerges confused, eventually warming up to Jim and, incredibly, launching a romance founded on a grand lie and homicidal interests. Their meet cute is an intentional death sentence, but Passengers rarely acknowledges the vileness of Jim’s act. Instead, there’s a dating arc where the pair experiences the finest things the Avalon offers: dining out, drinking with Arthur, dance competition video games, movies, exercise (Aurora swims daily in an elaborate pool), and tethered space walks.
Passengers does succeed with design work. Jim and Aurora delight in discovering the amusing futuristic touches in the ship’s interiors. Interstellar travel also has its moments of cinematic beauty, which makes the actual story all the more disturbing. Tenderness is replaced with a survival challenge that ludicrously turns Jim into a dashing hero and pushes Aurora into damsel in distress mode, which doesn’t fit Lawrence at all.
The production hopes to trigger tears and swoon with an atypical love story, but it grows more uncomfortable the closer Jim and Aurora get. Passengers isn’t a romance; it’s a serial killer origin story, starring an unrepentant selfish oaf who can’t handle alone time.