On paper, Passengers has it all: two high-profile stars, a solidly horrifying non-horror premise, and plenty of opportunity for grand sci-fi spectacles.
With Chris Pratt finding his feet as a budding MCU superstar and Jennifer Lawrence managing to turn practically any movie into box office gold, it certainly seemed that Passengers was a movie that simply couldn’t fail. At least, that was, until it released.
Critics were, at best, underwhelmed, and although Passengers certainly found something of an audience, it’s not a movie that’s particularly well thought-of, with a mere 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and 41 on Metacritic.
I’ll admit that, when Passengers released, I simply refused to believe the hype, and so there was no element of disappointment on viewing it for the first time, but it’s very much a film of two halves.
Set on a sleeper ship transporting 5000 colonists to a new planet, Passengers begins with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) waking after his hibernation pod malfunctions, only to learn that he’s been woken 90 years early. With no way to put himself back to sleep and the prospect of spending his entire life alone on an automated ship, Jim does the unthinkable – he sabotages the pod of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer that he’s become infatuated with, sentencing her to an isolated existence alongside him on the Avalon.
Passengers sets out to be a sort of sci-fi Castaway, with an added twist of ethics, and this is something that goes strongly in its favour. The first half of the movie is a bleak exploration of solitude and the human condition, and it’s appropriately thought-provoking.
However, a short while after Aurora learns the truth, Passengers veers off into rather generic territory. With a ship-wide catastrophe looming, Jim and Aurora must work together to ensure their own survival – as well as that of the other 5000 blissfully unaware souls onboard.
This is where Passengers stops being fresh and interesting, and morphs almost immediately into a standard popcorn flick. Another malfunctioning pod adds Gus Mancuso (Lawrence Fishburne) into the mix, although he’s little more than a barrier to Pratt and Lawrence’s dysfunctional chemistry, and he serves the smallest of supporting roles.
Passengers does boast decent performances from its stars, but it flushed its own narrative potential down the toilet in favour of a simpler, cleaner resolution, and during its final act, a number of ridiculously anticlimactic plot points make for an incredibly disappointing experience.
It’s worth noting that what begins as a sad, vaguely creepy tale ends on an inappropriately happy note, inadvertently condoning incredibly predatory behaviour in a singularly insensitive and potentially upsetting fashion.
Passengers begins with incredible promise, only to bundle it into the airlock and jettison its potential. This is done in favour of a predictable, cookie-cutter ending that feels at once forced and lazy, and sours what might have otherwise been a tensely uncomfortable sci-fi masterpiece.
Summary: Solid performances and dazzling visuals aren’t enough to hide Passengers many shortcomings, which feel every bit as unfortunate as they do inorganic.
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