This star-powered sci-fi drama is both generic and vaguely creepy.
Sarah Ward
Published on January 09, 2017


"Space movie mashup" isn't the best name for a film, but in Passengers' case, it would've fit. So would've the much too wordy "intergalactic love story with a predictable twist". Let's try a third one on for size: "attractive actors find a way to pair up…as they're hurtling towards another galaxy". The formula is simple, with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence the good-looking talent in question, a spaceship heading to a new planet their setting, and both sparks and conflict flying.

Here's how Passengers starts out: mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) wakes up on board the starship Avalon, only to discover that he hasn't quite reached his destination yet. Thanks to a hibernation pod malfunction, he's up and moving 90 years too early — and, among the 5000 folks snoozing on board, he's the only living soul wandering the vessel's many decks, rooms, basketball court, dance floor and pool with an intergalactic view. Android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) pours a mean drink but is no substitute for real human company, and soon loneliness and despair begin to set in. Much to Jim's relief, pretty young writer Aurora Lane (Lawrence) eventually joins him; however their romantic bliss isn't exactly what it seems.

With The Imitation Game's Morten Tyldum directing a script that was actually written a decade ago by Doctor Strange scribe Jon Spaihts, what follows is as standard as it sounds, even with the aforementioned twist. Indeed, while Passengers' big plot development isn't divulged in the film's trailers, it's not at all difficult to guess. Moreover, while the eventual revelation drives much of the movie's drama, it's really just a way to bring the two characters together, tear them apart, and leave the audience waiting for a reunion.

The end result is an interstellar effort that veers into creepy territory; a film that recognises the moral dilemma at its core, but doesn't take more than a cursory moment or two to really explore it. The same can be said for its broader existential leanings, both when Jim is alone and when Aurora awakens. You won't find Moon's musings on isolation, Solaris' pondering of love and loss, or Sunshine's psychological complexity here. Still, it's hard not to make the comparison – and before long you may find yourself wishing you were watching one of those films instead.

Passengers does its best to coast through the cinematic realm fuelled by star power and shiny surfaces, boasting enough of both to keep your eyes engaged, but not your heart or mind. Pratt and Lawrence are in fine, charismatic form, even if they never particularly sell their rapport. Sheen, meanwhile, is sadly underused as the only other actor with a significant speaking role. All in all, the movie may look the space-bound part, but it ends up feeling far too generic.


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