By Adam Pilskog
Ill timed, but well intentioned is the first thing I have to say about the long-awaited sci-fi film, “Passengers.”
Featuring two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, and a sizzling black list script that has been hotly pursued since first being written back in 2007. I say ill timed because opening a week after Star Wars is a bold move for any big budget flick, but one in the same genre? That’s not the best timing. Well intentioned? Well, on paper, everything about this film screams “awesome.” But paper is paper, and a movie-going experience is something entirely different.
Sometime in the unspecified future, the colonial spaceship Avalon is making a 120-year journey to the Homestead 2. Carrying 5,000 passengers and 300 crewmembers in hyper sleep, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes up alone after just 30 years. A series of semi-humorous events, malfunctions and shenanigans leads to the awakening of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and the two of them embark on the unlikeliest of whirlwind romances. Then things start to go wrong, and it is a scramble for survival and protection of the 5,300 unwitting humans on board.
The plot provides opportunity for some interesting suspense and twists, but shies away from capitalizing on any of them, instead, spoiling the film after a mere 20 minutes or so. The story arc is simple and predictable, with little payoff at the end. There is also little peril, as there just isn’t much of an emotional investment in the characters, and the 5,000 sleeping individuals are nameless and faceless, so their identities get lost due to the film’s time constraints.
Instead, we are treated to cutesy technological advancements like a hologram dance game, automatic food dispensers, an autonomous android bartender (Michael Sheen, who actually shines as the best acting portion of the entire film), and a ship that can correct its own malfunctions without any human intervention. Pretty convenient, if you ask me.
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have zero chemistry here. In a nutshell, he’s boring and she’s helpless. Their personalities are cute, but not really likable beyond the attractive facades, and their attraction to each other is just transparently disingenuous and contrived. To put it in perspective, the third wheel on the ship, Michael Sheen’s android Arthur, has better chemistry with each of them than they do with each other, and that is just sad.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) is given the keys to his dad’s sports car on this one. A reported $110 million budget can go a long way, but sci-fi is notoriously expensive. There are a few notable action sequences that make the film mildly enjoyable, mostly playing with gravity. But most of what he shows is a tour of an interstellar Carnival cruise line and its many amenities.
Writer Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus,” “Doctor Strange”) is quickly becoming a hot commodity in the genre, but this film won’t do him any favors. It’s not his fault though; the idea is fun and could have been executed stronger if there were more energy put into the thriller or suspense aspects. The romance wasn’t designed to be the focal point of the story, and perhaps if there were lesser-known actors, the plot might have emerged more victorious.
I was really looking forward to this one. I’m a huge fan of sci-fi, and I even wrote a fiction book on the subject, but endings are so challenging to do adequately, and I wasn’t impressed by this one in the slightest. “Passengers” isn’t a bad film, just very underwhelming and disappointing.