Passengers (2016)

Directed by Morten Tyldum
Written by Jon Spaihts

Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook, Joy) and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) have quickly become A-list stars over the last few years. Their star power is more than enough to sell tickets at the local multiplex, especially around the holidays. So when they paired up with The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum for a science fiction adventure film, I could only imagine the millions of dollars and countless awards nominations to follow. However, sometimes there are a few movies with legitimate movie stars that are released during awards season that just don’t measure up. Some are meant to cut through the dramatic heft of typical Oscar bait and deliver a reprieve for even the most ardent movie-goers, but some, like Passengers, are just not good movies.

Aboard the spaceship Avalon are 5,000 passengers on a 120 year course to Homestead II, a colonial planet where humans from overpopulated Earth are travelling to start a new civilization. With still 90 years left to go, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), an engineer, is mistakenly awoken from hibernation. With only the android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company, Jim attempts to find a way to go back into hibernation, to no avail. However, after a year of loneliness another passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer, is awoken. The two are able to now keep each other company, but when a third passenger, this time a crew member (Laurence Fishburne) is awoken, they must rush to find out what is wrong with the ship before it is too late and the entire ship is destroyed before they are able to reach Homestead II.

I was admittedly transfixed by the opening sequences of this film. Quiet, brooding, and endlessly mysterious, we follow Jim as he is awoken from hibernation and must find his way on the ship. At first he thinks everything is normal, until he attends orientation and, spoiler alert, he’s the only one there. These scenes allow Pratt to be the Pratt we all know and love. He cracks jokes, makes friends with the bartender, and struggles with his existence, all the while also showing off the imagination behind the impressive sci-fi technology on board the ship. This existential side of Pratt is a pleasant surprise, and this may very well be his best performance to date, able to show his comedic charisma while also incorporating a certain heft the character requires. The film, unfortunately, begins to go off the rails when Jennifer Lawrence appears in the film, as much as it pains me to say it because I love her as an actress so much.

Despite much of the first act of the film only starring Pratt, it is actually Jennifer Lawrence who receives top billing in the credits. The ode to feminism stops there. It is not Lawrence’s fault this film falls apart, even if it’s her characters presence which does it. Lawrence is fine here. Nothing astounding, nothing bad. However, the direction from Morten Tyldum and the screenplay by sci-fi writer Jon Spaihts are seriously lacking, bordering on the edge of lazy and sexist. I would prefer not to get into spoiler discussion in this review, but suffice it to say the entire existence of Aurora Lane’s character is there to serve the purposes of Jim Preston. Not to mention the fact that Tyldum is certainly utilizing Lawrence’s sex appeal with various “male gaze” type shots. Jim makes a morally questionable decision along the way, and seems to receive very little in the way to repercussions as a result. In fact he is mostly depicted as a hero in the end who gets exactly what he wanted given the circumstances.

This movie is just offensive in my opinion. Actually, I would like to go back. Jim’s decision is not morally questionable, it’s morally bankrupt, and all that follows does nothing to address this point in any way. I think the idea behind the film is promising, not that we haven’t seen this type of movie before, but there are some interesting moral questions at play here that simply never get explored or given their due, like the involvement of the android bartender in Jim’s decision. The technology in the film is cool, the art direction is cool, it feels like a sci-fi film. It just doesn’t think like one. Not every movie released during awards season needs to be an awards contender, but I would have at least liked to have seen a film that wasn’t horrible. Passengers, while dressed up like a good movie, lacks the constitution to stand up for itself and be anything other than a bad, sexist movie, lacking the gall to face its characters flaws.

** – Poor

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