The following review contains spoilers for “Passengers.”
2 out of 5 stars.
The ads for “Passengers” bill it as escapist sci-fi entertainment. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence wake up from early hibernation on a spaceship, and something goes wrong. The thing is, that “something wrong” that the marketing alludes to isn’t what you think, and that’s the fundamental problem that, once it is revealed, the film cannot overcome.
Directed by Morten Tyldum, “Passengers” is set aboard the Starship Avalon, a ship on a 120 year journey to a new planet called Homestead II. There are 5,000 passengers on board in hibernation, but damage to the ship causes the pod housing mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake him up 90 years early. Unable to find a way to go back to sleep, Jim spends over a year alone, going from basking in the luxurious accommodations on board the ship to nearly killing himself because he can’t handle it anymore.
That is, until he catches a glimpse of the pod housing Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer. He is immediately infatuated, and that’s where the movie’s problems start. Up to this point, Jim is a relatable and sympathetic character—it’s hard not to feel for him in his situation. But now he’s sitting next to Aurora’s pod, watching videos of her interview detailing why she wants to journey to Homestead II. It isn’t long before Jim starts considering the unthinkable—waking Aurora up.
Of course, Jim ends up doing this, knowing that the action will end his loneliness but also essentially end Aurora’s life, as she won’t live long enough to make it to Homestead II. He assumes a lot by doing this: that she’ll fall in love with him, that she’ll never find out what he did.
We’re still led to believe throughout the film that something else is going on with the ship, but it isn’t the conspiracy you’d assume would come from this type of science fiction film. Rather, the ship just needs to go through some repairs to correct some serious damage. But the main conflict is still the relationship between Jim and Aurora, who does eventually find out that he woke her up and tries to distance herself from him as much as possible. Their having to work together to fix the ship and save not only their lives but the lives of the thousands on board in hibernation, gives them a reason to reunite and eventually have that happily-ever-after ending.
“Passengers” does a decent job of distracting the viewer from that distasteful reveal. Pratt and Lawrence have decent chemistry, and Michael Sheen is a scene stealer as the android bartender Arthur. The entire environment of the Avalon is fascinating as well, and there’s a tad bit of suspense built up, even though it doesn’t lead anywhere. But the sappy ending leaves a bad taste, knowing that Jim’s actions should be unforgivable. The film could have had a different ending, promoted a different message instead in which the two leads don’t end up together, but of course it never goes there. “Passengers” tries to be an engaging, original sci-fi movie, but it embraces stereotypes rather than breaks them. For all the increasingly progressive films that have been released this season, “Passengers” is a leap backward, rather than a step forward.
Runtime: 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.